You might be part of the typical American family. A husband, a wife, a couple of kids and perhaps a dog or two. Maybe it’s a little more complicated. A stepmother, a half-brother or an aunt who is having a little trouble getting her life together but until she does, she lives with you.
Whatever your family dynamic, when there is an alcoholic involved, it’s more than likely that some psychological tip-toeing is going on. If the addiction has gone on for years, that tip-toeing is more like an artful tap dance with daily performances masterful enough to warrant an Academy Award.
But this is your real life and, somehow, it’s got to stop before the drama has a tragic end.
Enablers Hurt When They’re Trying to Help
What if we told you that there are more characters involved than just the alcoholic? What if we said that everyone else in the family has a heavy hand in the addiction? How would you feel if you learned that you, in fact, are part of the problem?
Just breathe. Most alcoholic enablers don’t know the power that their words and actions have on the addict. Most enablers aren’t aware that many of the ways they try to help the one suffering with alcoholism assist in the continuance of the disease.
Addiction Is a Family Culture
There are instances when addiction is seemingly passed down from generation to generation. Think back on your parents, grandparents or their siblings. Are there familial alcohol issues in those bloodlines?
Genetics, family history and social environmental factors play a part in the development of alcoholism. And because addiction affects the entire family, being an enabler to the addict is a typical byproduct of the disease and grows to become the family culture.
Why Enable at All?
Placating someone else’s erratic moods or ill-thought decisions, covering up the unfulfilled obligations at work or school, and purchasing the drug itself are active forms of enabling. While you might think these indicate how it serves the alcoholic, they also serve the enabler.
The one commonality in these enabling behaviors is that they allow the enabler to avoid confrontation. Expanding this further, perpetual avoidance leads to a life of deception and delusion with detrimental consequences. Are you there yet? Are you an alcoholic enabler in denial?
Stopping the Behavior Takes More than Wishing It Away
If you are enabling the addiction in someone else and are ready to have “the talk” to broach the subject about getting your loved one into treatment and recovery, there will be many stumbling blocks, but here’s the big one…
As an enabler, your actions have been received by the alcoholic as if you’re condoning their addiction. When you do get to the serious point in doing whatever it takes to help them stop, the story could resemble “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.”
How? Most likely, there were other times throughout your relationship that comments or gestures were made that expressed negativity regarding the addiction or the addictive behaviors. Why would the alcoholic ever believe you were serious about getting the help deserved?
Enabling Is a Circular Codependency
There are many aspects of enabling the addiction that are subliminally attractive to enablers. The alcoholic must rely on the enabler’s financial and mental well-being to survive. Conversely, enablers feel needed by the alcoholic’s narcissism. Over time, the circular process of the dependency creates an illusion to the enabler that this is how love is given and received.
Until the alcoholic wholeheartedly knows that effective treatment is their only healthy way out, it is up to the enablers to learn to love them at an emotional arm’s length and guide them toward recovery. For some deep into their substance use disorder, detox isn’t considered until the only other option is death.
Signs Your Family Is Enabling Addiction
Depending on a person’s role in enabling the addiction, specific feelings arise associated with their place in the family unit and the relationship with the alcoholic. Thoughts and emotional reactions are based on a mix of anger, guilt, sadness, victimization or hope.
Distinctive roles also help the alcoholic subconsciously know whom to turn to when seeking a certain want or need.
The various enabling roles include:
- The Guilty
- The Redeemer
- The Allies
- The Denier
- The Enforcer
- The Saboteur
- The Helper
- The Martyr
- The Clueless
Keep in mind that family members can lead more than one role, switching their part to suit the situation in the moment, just to get past it.
Enabling behavior examples include:
- Lying or calling in sick to an employer or teacher
- Drinking socially with the alcoholic
- Providing money
- Convincing yourself that the addiction is temporary or will go away on its own
How You Can Communicate Change with an Alcoholic Who Is Being Enabled
Alcoholism adversely affects brain function. Though a close friend, parent, brother, sister, son or daughter may be well-intentioned, the alcoholic cannot process communication well.
Should your loved one want to stop drinking, there are medical reasons (both physical and mental) why going through a professional interventionist is strongly advised. But before you can get them into treatment, a well-thought, skillful and strong – yet compassionate – conversation must take place.
Our First-Rate Intervention Practice Keeps Families Intact
The kind of face-to-face communication that must happen during an intervention can make the alcoholic react defensively, creating a fight-or-flight response, shutting down the entire opportunity. Hostility can mount, sending the family into harmful altercations. Intervention is for the love of another but should not be led by the faint-hearted, nor without a knowledgeable practitioner.
Intervention Benefits the Entire Family
Just as addiction affects the entire family, the intervention itself can be the first point of healing for all. The supervised dialogue allows for acknowledging the hurt, anguish and disassociation within the family dynamics, providing the gateway toward rebuilding the family to a healthier place.