It’s a word that many parents of addicts are deathly afraid of – enabler. And, unfortunately, many family members play the role of enabler in an addict’s life. Typically, this role starts off innocuously and most enablers believe that they are doing their loved one a favor – mitigating the consequences of the addictive behavior. In doing so, these loved ones truly believe they are making their relationship with the addict more comfortable or even thinking that they may be removing them from a bad situation with the hopes that they will “see the light.” Indeed, a hallmark of an enabler is believing that they are doing the right thing, often despite outcomes and behaviors that may suggest otherwise.
Enabling may also come from worry – concern that tackling the problem will lead the addict to hurt or even kill themselves, concerns that they will lose the addict forever and many more understandable reasons.
Sadly, it’s often too late before the enabler realizes what their actions are causing and by then, guilt, shame, and sometimes even anger have taken over. This further alienates the addict and drives them deeper into their addictive behavior. This is the point where things feel like they have spiraled out of control and the family no longer knows what to do.
What are some of the signs of an enabler?
- Not communicating due to worry that expressing emotions may cause a problem in the relationship
- Putting others’ needs ahead of their own, even if it is self-destructive
- Lying to cover up the addict’s behavior or pretending everything is OK
- Blaming others for the addict’s behavior
- Anger and resentment toward the addict
These are just some of the signs of enabling behavior
Prevention is Key
Of course, preventing substance abuse in the first place is the goal of every addiction treatment advocate, but the sad reality is substance abuse is very difficult to prevent. This is clear as more and more people become addicted and ultimately die from substances of abuse each and every year. Those people rarely get appropriate and comprehensive treatment, meaning that the substance abuse and addiction only worsen over time.
Enablers – What You Can do
Just because a parent, spouse or loved one is enabling the addict now, doesn’t mean it’s too late to stop. To be sure, the process is uncomfortable and unpredictable, but it is also necessary. It’s life or death.
- The first step to breaking out of the role of the enabler is to understand how your actions and inaction’s are affecting the addict. This means that you must break out of the cycle of denial. To be sure, this is not easy, but ultimately having a strong support system in the form of clinicians, friends and loved ones to help guide you can make it happen
- You must also accept that addiction is a disease and one that requires more than you alone to treat. Accepting that you cannot change your addicted loved one without others’ help is a great start. Sadly, addiction affects people at the deepest levels and requires and medical and therapeutic intervention
- Work on yourself. Many of an enabler’s actions come from insecurities within themselves. It may be anxiety or depression, feelings of inadequacy, worry about perceptions and even low self-worth that may push the enabler despite their better judgment
- Prioritize honesty. Honesty leads to open and candid communication which strengthens the bonds between everyone involved in the addict’s life. It is important to remember that you are not alone, and neither is the addict. However, for both of you to feel that way you have to let others in, and pretense has to go out the window
- Re-learn the importance of boundaries. It’s likely that you haven’t had to set boundaries since your child was little. However, that does not mean that boundaries are no longer necessary. In fact, boundaries are extremely important throughout the relationship and at any age. Speak to your counselor or therapist to learn more about how to set boundaries to help your relationship
The bottom line is that enablers make the therapeutic process more difficult even though they have the best of intentions. Working on yourself is the first step to helping the addict in your life get the treatment they need and ultimately stay sober for the long term.