If a person you love is addicted to drugs or alcohol, you’re probably doing everything you can to help him or her stay out of trouble and hopefully get better. But things haven’t gotten better. If anything, they’re getting worse.
Then you start to wonder: Are you enabling your family member? How can you recognize the signs?
You’re right to be concerned. Sometimes the things you do under the guise of trying to help or “keep it in the family” are doing more harm than good by driving the issue underground, instead of helping your loved one get the help he or she really needs to get well.
Why Your Loved One Hasn’t Gotten Better, Despite Your Help
Have you have ever approached an addicted family member to try to rescue him or her? Did you try to reason or cajole him or her into stopping?
Many people become angry in these situations, and may threaten their loved one to get the substance use to stop. That doesn’t work anymore than words can heal a broken leg or someone with cancer. Addiction is a disease and needs to be treated like one.
Imagine if your family member were diagnosed with cancer, and you were told that you would have to provide treatment yourself – that it was your responsibility to talk them into getting better and convince them to make smart choices that would cause the cancer to go away.
Ridiculous, right? So why do people think that this can be done with addiction?
The fact is addiction is a disease with both physical and psychological elements that require professional treatment. No family, however kind, generous and well-meaning, is equipped to cure a person who is addicted to drugs or alcohol.
Only Prolonging the Addiction
By doing what you can to help your addicted loved one get by, you are only prolonging the disease. If you really want to help them get well, the only thing you can do that will actually work is to arrange for an intervention and treatment.
You don’t need to go on doing your best to help and feeling frustrated when it isn’t working. Your heart is in the right place, but you’re just using the wrong strategy.
Let go of any guilt you may be feeling about enabling, or that you haven’t helped enough, and enlist highly qualified professionals to do what they do best: cure addiction.
How Well-Intentioned Family Members Become Enablers
Families end up enabling an addict because they are trying to help. They want the best for their loved one. They hate seeing anyone they care for in pain and making poor choices.
They also get tired of being put in a position where they are having to deal with the consequences of an addict in the family, such as:
- Paying for rent or bills
- Repaying money “borrowed” from friends for debts
- Providing housing if the family member has been evicted
- Paying for or providing food
- Giving the family member money that ends up getting spent on drugs or alcohol
- Theft of money or property
If you have faced these situations and decided to help your family member, you are not alone. The natural reaction to someone you care for who reaches out for help is to do everything you can, especially if you are told that, “This will be the last time – I promise.” Here is a great resource on families who enable and why they do it.
Why Enabling Is So Dangerous
The problem with enabling is that it doesn’t get to the root of the problem of addiction.
By allowing the family member to continue to use alcohol or drugs, there is no incentive for him or her to get well.
Since this tactic doesn’t work, you need to tackle the problem from a completely different angle and get professional help by contacting an interventionist. Check out this intervention FAQ for more details.
Get Help for an Addicted Loved One
For the intervention process to be successful, the family must be involved – as many members as possible. Your loved one is going to need all of your support. The situation will need to change and be repaired for long-term sobriety to become a reality.
For that reason, the process involves getting input from several family members. Your addicted family member can soon get the treatment he or she needs, and the rest of the family can eventually get help as well.
Why It’s So Hard for Families to Commit to an Intervention
Like cancer treatment, addiction treatment is never 100 percent guaranteed to work every time. But you know what will happen if you confront your loved one about their addiction: They will freak out and cause even more drama than they are already causing.
So for many families, the unknown outcome of intervention is more fearful than staying in the darkness they’re in now. They’ll put up with the discomfort of the status quo to avoid the short-term drama of an intervention.
Additionally, we need to push past the stigma of admitting to addiction. Many families try to solve the problem on their own because to seek professional treatment is to admit that your loved one is a drug addict or alcoholic. Families are often as resistant to admitting this as the addicts are.
There’s a reason why in AA meetings people introduce themselves by saying, “Hi, my name is _____ and I’m an alcoholic.” Just admitting it out loud takes courage and is a powerful first step.
If you’re in a private place, try it now yourself. Say out loud, “My son/daughter/spouse, _____ (their name), is an alcoholic/addict.” You’ll probably find it hard to say at first, even just to yourself. That’s natural.
Push through that discomfort and keep doing it until you can say it without flinching. Then pick up the phone and call a professional interventionist.
You’ve done everything you can to help. Now do something that actually WILL help. Contact Family First Intervention and talk to a trusted intervention counselor.
Not Sure If You’re Ready for an Intervention? Learn How to Do It Right, and How to Stop Enabling from Ruining the Intervention: