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Am I Enabling My Loved One’s Addiction?

by Demarco Moore

June 20, 2022
A man helping another man who is being enabled by another hand

The Truth About Addiction and Relationships

It can be difficult to know whether you may be enabling a friend or family member’s substance use disorder. We often do what we can to keep a relationship in harmony, even if that means making excuses for someone that you know is experiencing an addiction. We might trivialize their behavior or drug use. We may cover up someone’s actions with a lie so they don’t get in trouble. We may financially support someone who lost a job due to a drinking or drug problem. We could find it hard to say no to someone because we don’t want to deny their wants. These may seem like helpful actions, but they’re actually making the situation worse in the long run.

Enabling behaviors are actions we take to help someone, but they end up perpetuating the problem. When you don’t address addiction for what it is, a disease that can cause long-term health problems, you put yourself between the person struggling and their prospective recovery. There is a big difference between helping someone and enabling them. You have to be willing to risk the relationship you have with someone in order to help them get into addiction treatment.

What Does it Mean to Enable an Addiction?

Helping Versus Enabling

Enabling someone often happens without the other person knowing that’s what they’re doing. It’s hard to imagine your child, spouse or even a parent struggling with something as crippling as addiction. You might blame yourself. You could be embarrassed for your family. You may even do things like give them money, help create a cover story to hide something or prioritize their desires over your own needs all in the hopes that they will eventually just get better. 

Each action is done in the name of helping them get through their addiction. However, really helping a friend or family member with an addiction means motivating them to go to rehab. Enabling often comes from a place of love, but can quickly turn into a state of resentment, where you find yourself bailing someone out of their problems time after time..

Here’s a list of five signs that you could be enabling someone with an addiction.

5 Signs of Enabling Someone With an Addiction

A woman setting boundaries by crossing her arms to form an 'x'

1. You Support Them Financially

You’re the parent of a son or daughter with an addiction. The money you gave was only supposed to help them pay bills until they get back on their feet. However, drug and alcohol use can cause serious financial hardship. 

For example, OxyContin®, a brand-name prescription opioid, costs $6.52 per pill without insurance, according to Addiction Center. On the street, the same pill costs about $15. Drug use is not cheap. If you agree to pay rent or a car loan, especially if it’s undeserved or unearned, you could be enabling them to avoid responsibilities and push them deeper into their addiction. Your financial support could actually be keeping them from addressing their dependency on drugs or alcohol.

2. You Prioritize Their Needs Over Your own

Have you ever been on an airplane and paid attention to the pre-flight instructions? The flight attendants always instruct passengers in the event of an emergency to put their own oxygen masks on first before helping someone else. You may be so busy giving your loved one money or calling them hourly that you neglect your own self-care.

You might be neglecting your own emotional needs while trying to support someone with an addiction. If you find yourself doing everything for them and getting nothing in return there’s a good chance you’re enabling their behavior.

3. You Blame Yourself for Their Addiction

It’s easy for parents to blame themselves for their child’s bad behavior. Instead of realizing that addiction is a chronic disease, you blame yourself for how they were raised and make it a moral failing on your part. Watching a child, friend or family member struggle with addiction is heartbreaking. Human beings naturally look inwardly to identify reasons why things turned out the way they did. 

You might ask yourself, things like:

Was I too lenient?”

“Did I not listen enough?

“Should I have been there more?”

“Was I saying the wrong things?”

Second-guessing your influence over another person’s behavior can become all-consuming. What makes this worse is that in many cases people experiencing addiction often look for others to blame. It’s hard to understand that you did not cause it and cannot control another person’s addiction. Instead, educate yourself about addiction. Offer compassion and understanding. Establish boundaries and encourage them to get treatment.

4. You Deny That Your Loved One Has A Problem

It can be hard to admit or deal with the fact that someone you know and love is struggling with an addiction. For some, it’s easier to talk yourself into believing there isn’t a problem than having to come face-to-face with addiction. If you’re someone they trust, they could brush it off as something that isn’t a big deal.

But you have to look at the facts. If drugs or alcohol have become someone’s priority, then there’s a real problem. The sooner you face reality, the sooner they could get the help they need. 

5. You Avoid Talking About Their Addiction

Avoiding the situation is easier than tackling it head on. No one likes uncomfortable conversations, especially when feelings are involved. Instead of confronting your loved one about how their alcohol or drug problem is having a noticeable impact on their appearance, behavior and family, you look for ways to avoid the issue altogether.

That’s just enabling them to continue abusing drugs or alcohol. What’s left unsaid could be the push they need to get better. 

How to Stop Enabling an Addiction

A sign with the directions help advice support and guidance

Once you realize how you’ve enabled a loved one’s addiction, try working on ways to support their recovery. Reversing the effects of addiction and establishing boundaries can be uncomfortable for you and your loved one. But, like one of our favorite recovery quotes says:

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” –Albert Einstein

To help you or someone you know learn to keep moving away from enabling and closer to addiction treatment, here’s a blog post with eight specific tips to stop enabling an addict.

There is a way out, for the enabler and the addict

Recovery specialists at Landmark Recovery are available 24/7 to talk about addiction. Call 888-448-0302 to learn more about how you can help yourself or a loved one start the road to recovery.

About the Author

Demarco Moore

Demarco Moore

Demarco is a Middle Tennessee State University graduate. He focuses on addiction recovery-focused content writing and search engine optimization (SEO) at Landmark Recovery.

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