If an interventionist or someone else has called you an enabler, it is up to you to understand what this means and how to fix the problem. Being an enabler means you could be prolonging your loved one’s substance use disorder, and preventing him or her from hitting rock bottom and seeking treatment.
What Is An Enabler?
First, understand what being an enabler is not. Being an enabler does not mean you want your loved one to continue abusing drugs or alcohol. It does not mean you support his or her bad habits. In fact, being the enabler means you care about your spouse, sibling, or adult child – you care so much that you want to make life easy for him or her. Unfortunately, this also means you are making it easy to stay addicted.
Being the enabler means you are enabling, or facilitating, your loved one’s continued substance abuse. You may not be doing so directly, such as supplying the drugs or alcohol, but indirectly, by protecting your loved one from the consequences of an addiction. Most people who struggle with addiction have to hit rock bottom before they will decide to seek treatment. Rock bottom may involve losing one’s job, home, driving privilege, custody of children, or relationships.
When you enable someone, you prevent that person from hitting rock bottom. Instead of running out of money to feed an addiction, for example, your loved one will continue to afford bills, rent, and substance abuse because of your financial support. Instead of losing a job, your loved one will keep working because you called the employer and made an excuse for his or her irresponsible behavior. Being the enabler means you are allowing the addiction to continue.
3 Signs You Are An Enabler
The first step in resigning your role as the enabler is recognizing that you are part of the problem. Many loved ones that enable addiction do not realize what they are doing counts as enablement. It is important to take a frank, honest look at your relationship with the person with the addiction. You might be acting from a place of love, but the repercussions could be serious. You might be the enabler if any of the following are true:
- You ignore bad behavior. If you notice telltale signs that your loved one has a substance use disorder, such as using drugs “recreationally” or missing work to drink, but choose to ignore these behaviors, you might be an enabler.
- You provide financial support. Financial problems are a major reason why many people with addictions choose to finally seek help. If you are paying your loved one’s bills, handling his/her debts, bailing him/her out of jail, or repairing damaged property the person broke, you could be an enabler.
- You make excuses for your loved one. You might be the enabler if you find yourself making phone calls to employers, family members, spouses, and others on your loved one’s behalf. Making excuses for addictive behaviors keeps the person from fighting his or her own battles.
If you are the enabler in your loved one’s life, you have to make a change. It is reasonable to want to protect your loved one from negative consequences. Yet at some point, your loved one has to step up and take responsibility for his or her actions. Continuing to pay the bills, make excuses, or let your loved one live with you during an addiction could be why he or she has not yet committed to recovery. If you continue to play the role of the enabler, your loved one might never have a reason to get or remain sober. It’s time to break the cycle.
How To Break The Cycle
Breaking the cycle of enablement is not easy. It will take strong conviction on your part that you are doing the right thing. You may encounter times of weakness, when something tempts you to fall back into your habit of saving or protecting your loved one. Yet you will have to stay strong and stand by your decisions. Follow these steps to stop enabling a loved one’s addiction:
- Stop cleaning up his or her messes. First, recognize when you are cleaning up messes your loved one makes. This could be dirty dishes, soiled clothes, spilled drinks, or friends passed out on the couch. Instead, hold your loved one accountable for cleaning up his or her own messes.
- Don’t offer rides or money. Make it your loved one’s responsibility to get to his or her job or other obligations on time. Don’t offer rides when your loved one is under the influence. This could force him or her to find alternate transportation, or lead to a wake-up call such as a DUI.
- Ignore manipulation. This is one of the most difficult aspects of breaking the cycle of enablement. Your loved one may try to manipulate you by playing on your emotions, insulting you, or refusing to go to treatment. Weigh the short-term difficulties and pain with the long-term results. During hard days, remind yourself what is at stake.
- Follow through with plans. Going along with your loved one when he or she wants to cancel plans, uninvite dinner guests, or skip a meeting can enable bad behaviors. Instead, follow through with plans – even if your loved one throws a tantrum or refuses to go. This will show your loved one that he or she cannot control you.
- Get help. Most enablers need professional assistance to break the cycle. Working with an interventionist, counselor, or addiction specialist can give you the tools you need to stop enabling for good. You will also need the knowledge of how you can help without enabling an addiction.
If you’re ready to stop enabling a loved one’s addiction to drugs or alcoholism, you may need to stage an intervention. Interventions are great ways for the entire family to work together to get someone through recovery. An intervention can shine a spotlight on things you and other family members might do to enable substance abuse. It can also show your loved one that he or she has something to live for, and that the addiction affects more than just the individual.