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What is an Enabler?
The reality is that most people who have an addiction have an enabler in their lives.
An enabler is someone in the life of an addicted person whose behavior undermines that person's addiction recovery. This could be a relative, a romantic partner, a friend, or another loved one.
While most enablers are well-meaning, they do more harm than good. Their problematic behavior makes substance abuse recovery more difficult.
Unknowingly, enablers encourage or entice the person who actually needs help controlling their bad behavior. This is because an enabler struggles with drawing the line between acceptable and unacceptable in their presence.
8 Signs You May Be Enabling an Addict (Enabling Behaviors)
While nearly 20 million American adults battle a substance use disorder of some kind, it’s tough to say just how many enablers are out there. Anyone could be an enabler and not even realize it.
You, too, may be an enabler. There are no particular personality traits that make someone an enabler. Instead, it's your emotional connection to the person in need that can cause you to enable them.
The closer you are to that person, the more likely you are to enable them. This is because the closer you are, the more likely you are to accept, forgive, and trust them when they tell you they’re making changes.
Unfortunately, many enablers struggle to understand the recovery process. Here are 8 signs that you might be enabling an addict in your life:
1. You deny their behaviors.
Denial is a tell-tale sign of an enabler. Because you’re so close to the person in need, you don’t want to believe that they’re really doing what they’re doing - that their poor behavior has become a pattern, in need of professional help.
You may have false hope that it’s just a phase. If you turn a blind eye to what an addict is doing, you hope that maybe it’ll pass. Unfortunately, it won’t.
2. You engage in the same behaviors around them.
It’s not easy for a person with substance abuse problems to stay away from drugs or alcohol in their presence. Keeping alcohol or other drugs in easy reach can make it difficult for someone with an addiction.
Worse, consuming drugs or alcohol around that person, makes it harder for them to break their addiction. While you may not think it’s a big deal, it complicates the recovery process.
3. You cover up for them all the time.
If the addicted person is constantly in trouble and you always cover for them, you may be an enabler.
Because you may not want to cross any lines, you may feel apprehensive about encouraging them to fulfill their commitments. Instead, you make excuses for them when they fall short.
4. You try to “keep the peace.”
Enablers will often avoid confrontation to keep the peace. If you don’t want to step on any toes and find yourself beating around the bush a lot, it may be because you’re an enabler.
When they ask, you give them money without asking questions about what you suspect it’ll be used for. You let them get away with substance abuse because you know that calling for an intervention could upset them or even drive them away.
5. You place blame on others.
Enablers will often blame other people for the person’s bad behavior. If you find yourself instinctually siding with the addicted person at all times you may be an enabler.
Someone with an addiction needs to take accountability for their actions and take steps to improve their lives. This, of course, is harder if you insinuate that their behaviors are OK by blaming others.
6. You provide financial assistance.
There's nothing wrong with extending financial help to a loved one from time to time. However, if they always use the money irresponsibly, giving money is enabling.
7. You frequently pick up their slack.
You may find yourself taking on more than your own share of obligations: chores, errands, bills, and other essential things.
There is a fine line between providing support and enabling. If your help makes it easy for a loved one to continue with their problematic behavior, you may be enabling them.
8. You set aside your own needs.
When you start sacrificing your own needs because you have to take care of the needs of an alcohol or drug-addicted loved one, you may be enabling them.
If you start to struggle financially, lack time for self-care, or your personal relationships are suffering, it's time to step back and analyze the situation. You may be enabling them without you knowing it.
How to Stop Enabling Someone
Being an enabler doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. Enablers are often empathetic and compassionate people. That said, enablers also tend to carry false guilt, suffer from anxiety, and avoid conflict. In doing so, enablers encourage problematic behavior.
Here’s how to stop being an enabler:
- Set boundaries — Stop helping them out financially, encouraging them to abuse alcohol or drugs by drinking or taking drugs in front of them, and allowing their bad behavior in your company or under your roof.
- Hold the addicted person accountable for their alcohol or drug use — Don’t pick up the pieces every time. Quit making excuses for them, covering up for them, and blaming others for their problems.
- Stage an intervention — Sit them down and confront them about their actions. You may consider talking with your friends and family, as well, so you don’t have to bear the brunt of it all on your own.
- Seek professional addiction treatment — Call in help. There are rehab and detox programs out there for them when they’re ready to make a change.
What Happens When an Enabler Stops Enabling
When an enabler stops enabling, the person with an alcohol or drug addiction may have an easier time seeking help. An addict's behavior may change because of this.
Fortunately, there are treatment programs out there for them when they’re ready to make a change.
How to Find Treatment for Addiction
If you know someone who needs professional help, know that treatment is available. Health professionals can provide medical advice.
Additionally, there are other treatment options that help address a loved one's addiction.
This includes support groups, therapies, medical treatments, and more:
- Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) — AA is a global, community-driven program that involves regular accountability meetings and group discussions surrounding addiction.
- Addiction Rehab Options — There are both inpatient and outpatient treatment centers with medical care professionals for people in need.
- Counseling — Mental health counseling via traditional talk therapy or group counseling sessions can help someone feel supported in their recovery process and pinpoint their triggers so they can overcome them.
- Medication-Assisted Treatment — Medication is usually combined with other detox programs to assist the person in the recovery journey.
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- Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MD. “What Is an Enabler in a Drug Addiction and How Can You Identify Them?” The Discovery Institute, The Discovery Institute, 2 Mar. 2020.
- Editor. “How to Stop Being an Enabler: Colorado Addiction Treatment.” AspenRidge Recovery Centers, 1 May 2020.
- “What Is an Enabler? 6 Signs You Might Be Enabling an Addict.” The Dawn Wellness Centre and Rehab Thailand, 24 Nov. 2020.
- Arlotta, C.J. “The Best Treatment for Drug Addicts is Community.” Forbes. September 25, 2015.
- Lundberg, Kelly, MD. “Environmental Risk Factors.”The Science of Addiction: Genetics and the Brain. Learn.Genetics.utah.edu. May, 2017.
- Haugen, Peter T. et. al. “Family Relationships and Peer Influence.” Family.JRank.org.