Enabling Behaviors In Addiction

By Midwest Detox Staff

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Being addicted to drugs and alcohol is a difficult, painful, and challenging experience. However, being the loved one of someone who is struggling with addiction can be really difficult, too. It’s not always easy to know the right thing to say or do to help. As a result, many people inadvertently engage in enabling behavior that only ends up making their loved one’s addiction worse.

It’s scary to think that you could be worsening the situation for a loved one in need, but this is why it’s so important to think about how the things you do could be helping or hurting them. If you’re not very familiar with substance abuse or addiction, or you simply don’t know much about enabling behaviors, you’ve probably got a ton of questions. For instance, what are some examples of enabling behavior? What can you do to stop enabling bad behavior in someone else? How much responsibility should you take for the actions of others? Finally, where can you reach out to help a loved one who is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction?

In today’s guide, we will answer all of these questions and more, but first, let’s look at what we mean by “enabling behavior.”

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    What Is Enabling Behavior?

    From a linguistic standpoint, to “enable” just means to allow something to happen. So if you enable someone else’s behavior, you do or say things that may not actively discourage or encourage bad behavior, but nonetheless allow it to occur. In the context of substance abuse, an “enabler” is anyone who allows someone to continue engaging in self-destructive behavior without doing anything to stop it.

    Enabling behavior is a really complex topic, and as such, it’s not always easy to identify specific examples. The types of behavior that enable drug or alcohol abuse can often vary from one case to the next. However, if you engage in any actions or responses that inadvertently support or perpetuate substance abuse, you would be considered an enabler. And it’s important to point out that this doesn’t make you a bad person! Even well-intentioned actions can be classified as enabling behavior, so try not to be too hard on yourself if you’ve accidentally enabled a loved one. What matters is that you learn what enabling behavior looks like so you can change your actions, attitudes, and responses going forward.

    Here are a few common examples of enabling behaviors that could perpetuate or worsen drug or alcohol addiction:

    • Making Excuses - People addicted to drugs often engage in behaviors that are dangerous or simply not permissible in most situations. It’s not uncommon for friends or family members to make excuses for their loved ones. This could include lying about the reasons for their behaviors or minimizing their actions so that the loved one feels less ashamed.
    • Offering Financial Support - Most people with addictions need more and more money to fuel their substance abuse. Offering financial support may seem like the right thing to do, especially if your loved one comes to you for help to pay for rent or groceries, but you could inadvertently be financing their addiction. For example, if you allow your friend with a drinking problem to borrow some money, you could be enabling their alcoholic behavior.
    • Downplaying Negative Consequences - Providing emotional support is just part of being a good friend or family member. But if you get to the point that you’re downplaying very negative consequences of substance abuse, you’re doing more harm than good. For example, if your sibling misses work because they were high, you’re not doing them any good by downplaying the incident or making it seem less serious so that they won’t feel as stressed about it.
    • Intervening in Legal Situations - Helping a loved one out of a legal jam may seem like a noble thing to do, but if they got into the legal situation as a direct or indirect result of addiction, you’re only enabling them to continue abusing drugs and alcohol.
    • Avoiding Confrontation - One of the most common enabling behaviors is avoidance. You don’t want to make your friend or family member upset, so you avoid broaching subjects that may cause pain or anger. This only prolongs the inevitable and allows the person to abuse drugs or alcohol, perhaps without even realizing how much damage they’re doing to themselves and others.
    • Adopting Responsibilities - Many people who abuse drugs or alcohol begin to abandon their work, school, and family responsibilities. You might want to pick up the slack and help them out with their work, studies, or even household chores, but you’re only enabling their bad behavior.

    The Harmful Cycle Of Enabling

    Part of the reason why enabling behavior is so dangerous is because it creates a vicious and harmful cycle of abuse. You enable bad behavior, the bad behavior continues, and any change in your enabling behavior can be seen as a betrayal. For example, let’s say that you make excuses on behalf of your friend. Whenever their spouse catches them with bottles of alcohol, you say the alcohol was yours, not theirs. One time, you decide not to lie for them, and they see this act as a betrayal of your friendship, which may only cause them to engage in even more self-destructive behavior.

    How To Avoid Enabling Addictive Behavior

    Avoiding enabling addictive behavior is not easy, but it is necessary if you want to see your loved one recover. Here are a few tips to help you navigate the complexity of helping someone with addiction:

    • Set Firm Boundaries - Set boundaries for the kind of behavior you will and won’t allow in your presence.
    • Face Reality Head On - Don’t permit your loved one to live in denial. Face reality directly, even if they are unwilling or unable to face it with you (for now).
    • Stop Bad Habits Early - If you’ve found yourself engaging in any enabling behaviors like providing financial support or covering for your loved one, put an end to these behaviors as quickly as possible.
    • Encourage Professional Help - One way to support your loved one in a positive way is to encourage the involvement of a professional. This can help show your loved one that they have a problem, but that there is a path forward.
    • Use Tough Love - Tough love doesn’t work on everyone, but it’s often the best way to get through to people in denial about their addiction. Show empathy, but stick to the boundaries you’ve set, and don’t allow yourself to be manipulated.
    • Be a Role Model - Sometimes, a loved one may just need someone positive to look up to or emulate. Engage in healthy activities and behaviors, and encourage your loved one to do the same.

    How To Help Someone With Non-Enabling Support

    Even if you stop enabling behavior in its tracks, your loved one may continue to abuse drugs and alcohol. This is why it’s so important to seek out professional help. Fortunately, help is just a phone call away. At Midwest Detox, we offer a safe, private, and modern clinic in which you or a loved one can recover from drug or alcohol addiction. We help manage withdrawal symptoms while also teaching the skills necessary for long-term recovery.

    Are you in need of a private drug and alcohol detox center to begin your recovery? If so, Midwest Detox can provide everything you need to detox in a safe, comfortable environment. Visit our site or call us directly at 414-409-5200 to take the first step toward sobriety.