What is the Difference Between Enabling and Helping Behaviors?
If you love or care for someone who is an addict, you may not be aware just how thin the line between supporting or enabling them can be. The more deeply you care for someone, the more ill-defined this boundary can become. The problem is, most people who are enabling actually believe they are helping. It’s never easy to recognize that you may be contributing to your loved one’s addiction. With studies showing that approximately 1 in 4 adults struggle with addiction, it’s clear that this is a family and community issue. By learning to recognize your unhealthy behaviors, you can begin to interact in a more positive and constructive manner with someone who suffers from addiction.
Examples of Enabling Behavior
The truth is, it’s difficult to be emotionally intimate with an addict while avoiding entanglement in their web of lies and deception. Family members often believe that covering for an addict will help them find a chance to recover. Yet, these behaviors produce the exact opposite effect. By constantly picking up the slack or sugar-coating the consequences of living with addiction, enablers often cause substance abuse to intensify.
Some common enabling behaviors are:
- Taking care of the addict’s financial obligations.
- Calling in sick for the addict at their job, or lying in other ways to help them maintain a front.
- Bailing them out of jail or obtaining legal help for them.
- Falling for the same lies repeatedly, or accepting excuses for their behavior.
- Avoiding discussion of their substance abuse, often out of fear that confrontation will escalate their behavior.
- Letting the addict abuse you – physically, mentally or emotionally.
Recognizing these behaviors is the first step to changing your attitude and conduct. Next, you need to learn how to connect lovingly with an addict, while establishing appropriate personal, emotional and behavioral boundaries.
How to Help an Addict, Not Enable Them
First and foremost, let the addict in your life know how much you love them. Translate this affection into constructive actions that will help your loved one to take the initial steps towards recovery. Some examples non-enabling behaviors include:
- Educating yourself about addiction: Take action to learn about the particular substance or substances that your loved one is abusing. It’s important to note that substance abuse has a high co-morbidity (or simultaneous occurrence) rate with mental health issues. 12.3 percent of identified alcohol abusers met the diagnostic criteria of a mood disorder, while 11.3 percent suffered from a major depressive disorder. This same study by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism also points out that obtaining simultaneous treatment for both chemical dependency and mental disorders is vitally important for the well-being of the patient.
- Helping your loved one to investigate inpatient treatment: By helping an addict access appropriate treatment, you could be giving them the most valuable and loving gift possible. According to a study by The National Institute on Drug Abuse, 23.5 million persons aged 12 or older needed treatment for an addiction. Of these, only 2.6 million people received it at a specialty inpatient facility. Your loved one will reap the benefits of being physically insulated from addictive substances and triggering situations. They will have the mental and emotional benefits of access to counseling and guidance, along with the appropriate time and space to heal old wounds. Inpatient treatment acts as a sort of buffer zone, allowing an addict to create distance between themselves and provocative issues during recovery.
- Refusing to provide financial help to the addict: Although your loved one may try to guilt-trip you into funding their habit, stay strong and don’t give in to their demands. Providing money keeps them mired in their addiction, and inadvertently makes you appear to support their destructive behaviors.
- Ending the blame: A hallmark family trait of addicts is self-blame. You’re not responsible for your loved one’s state of affairs, and you never were. The co-dependent relationship between addicts and their enablers is often riddled with cesspools of guilt. Start taking responsibility for what you can control, which is not other people’s behavior.
It may not be enough to just read about ending enabling behaviors. As mentioned earlier, addiction tends to be rooted in family and community issues. Perhaps you should consider attending counseling to help overcome problems with guilt and low self-esteem. There is hope for the future. By sticking with a tough love attitude, you can become instrumental in your loved one’s successful recovery. It is possible to love an addict without enabling!