It’s only natural for parents, spouses and siblings to want to help the ones they love. After all, one of the reasons that we value family is for the compassion and support that they provide, especially during difficult times. But when your loved one is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, trying to help often leads to more harm than good.
It is common for family members to believe that they are helping their addicted loved ones when, in reality, they are acting as enablers. To truly help an addict, you need to be willing to confront them about the consequences of their substance abuse. You need to be honest, and you need to stand your ground.
What Is Enabling?
Contrary to what many believe, enabling a drug addict is goes much deeper than simply providing them with money or a place to stay. Any time that you behave in a way that delays the moment where the addict is forced to confront the full gravity of their situation, you are enabling their addiction.
Some of the most common signs of enabling an addict include:
- Providing them with money to support their habit
- Providing them with shelter
- Downplaying the severity of the problem
- Providing emotional support
- Lying on their behalf to shield them from consequences
- Rationalizing their behavior or making excuses for them
Perhaps the worst type of enabling is when family members simply do nothing at all. When families pretend not to see such a glaring problem, they send the signal to the addict that there is nothing wrong with their behavior.
The Four Patterns of Enabling Relationships
A family member’s motivation to enable a loved one’s addiction can be broken down into four main categories: fear, guilt, hope and victim. Each of these four motivations comes with different manipulation tactics on the part of the addict.
By appealing to these four thoughts and emotions, addicts are able to slowly train their loved ones to continue enabling their addiction:
Addicts might make a number of threats if confronted about their problem with substance abuse, such as cutting ties with their family or even performing acts of self-harm. Family members often fear that if they directly address their loved one’s addiction, it will create serious conflict.
Many addicts will blame their loved ones for becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol. They might say that you weren’t there for them when they needed help, or that the way you raised them led them to become addicted. By placing the blame on their loved ones, addicts are able to demand help without having to accept personal responsibility.
From the perspective of hope-based enablers, the addict will always appear to be on the verge of making a positive breakthrough. Family members fear that if they stop providing support to the addict, they will lose all of the progress that they’ve made. Of course, this progress is often a lie used to secure further enabling support.
Here are some of the claims an addict might make to give false hope to loved ones:
- “I swear I’ll look for treatment tomorrow.”
- “I just need to get high one last time, and then I’ll stop.”
- “I’m so close to finding a job. Just give me a little more time.”
Addicts will try to paint themselves as blameless victims of circumstance. In their mind, nothing is their fault.
They might say things like, “If you were forced to live my life, you would be drinking too,” or, “I would never have started using drugs if I hadn’t been in that accident.”
By shifting the blame away from themselves, and getting their family to go along with it, they are able to continue their pattern of substance abuse with a clear conscience.
The Link Between Enabling and Codependency
The root cause of enabling relationships is codependency. Codependency develops when two people rely on one another to satisfy needs that they cannot satisfy themselves.
Dependency on the part of the addict is fairly straightforward. Because the cycle of addiction is difficult to maintain alone, addicts rely on the people closest to them to enable their behaviors. As we have previously discussed, this dependence usually manifests itself as receiving financial and emotional support.
It is important for the addict’s enabling family members to realize that they, too, are locked in an unhealthy pattern of dependence. For instance, an addict’s parents usually feel a deep sense of responsibility to ensure the well-being of their child. This need can be satisfied, at least in the short term, by making sure that the addict’s basic needs are being met.
Why Parents Enable
Parents frequently rely on their children to bring a sense of purpose and meaning to their lives. When parents finally accept the fact their addicted child needs more help than they can provide, they may feel like they have failed to fulfill their most important role in life. Rather than face these troubling emotions, many parents will continue enabling their son’s or daughter’s addiction.
So, what is the difference between enabling and codependency? In short, codependency is the unhealthy relationship that develops from being too involved in an addicted person’s life, and enabling is the set of behaviors that define such a relationship.
- Understanding Family Roles
- Ego and Addiction eBook: Why Families Enable Addicts and Derail Interventions
- Addiction Codependency in Families
Healing Addiction Requires Healing Relationships
It is incredibly difficult for an addict to begin the process of recovery without first addressing the family’s codependency and enabling. At Family First Intervention, our team of expert interventionists will teach you how to help an addict without enabling their substance abuse. We know how to deal with enabling parents and spouses in a way that leads to long-term changes in behavior. This ensures that your whole family can start healing from the damage caused by addiction.
Call us today, and discover how, by working together, we can help your loved one achieve lifelong recovery from substance abuse.