“Enabling feels good, though! It makes us feel like we are helping and doing something good and positive in our family member’s life! It gives us a false sense of control…Our “helping” has only back-fired and prevented our family member from realizing they have a problem.”
~Carol Ann Gillespie and Karen Little, Friends and Family of Addiction: A Survival Manual
When you care about someone with a substance abuse problem – alcoholism or drug addiction – it is only natural that you want to help them and keep them safe. After all, isn’t that what you are supposed to do as a loving spouse, family member, or friend?
But when does “helping” become a problem? When are YOU contributing to their continued addiction?
Here are some questions you can ask yourself to see if you have crossed the line between helping and enabling.
Question #1 – Are You Acting out of Fear?
Face it – when a person is lost to active addiction, they are capable of doing anything. Are you making choices because you are afraid that:
- They will leave/break off contact?
- You and your family will suffer embarrassment?
- They will lose their job?
- They might end up in jail?
- It will only start another argument if you deny them?
- They will become violent?
- They might die?
Here’s a fact you have to keep in mind– every single one of those consequences CAN and WILL happen if their disease of addiction worsens.
Question #2–Are You Lying to Other People to Cover up for the Addict/Alcoholic?
Addiction negatively affects every area of a person’s life. As the substance abuser chases their next drink or next high, do you find yourself lying to:
- Their employer, saying they are too sick to come in today?
- Their school, covering for their absences?
- Your family and friends, making excuses when they miss a family gathering?
When you lie to keep the peace, or to save their job, or to make sure that they don’t fail, what you are really doing is protecting their addiction.
Question #3 – Are You Blaming Other People or Situations for the Substance Abuser’s Behaviors?
Rather than believe the unthinkable, you some other person or thing has somehow CAUSED your loved one’s addiction. You want to blame:
- Their drinking and drug buddies
- Other family members
- Their job
- The stress of everyday life
None of these people or things is to blame for your loved one’s drinking or drug abuse—any more than YOU are. You have to understand that your loved one has to accept responsibility and the consequences for their own actions.
Question #4 – Are You Having Difficulty Expressing or Controlling Your Emotions?
When you love someone addicted to drugs or alcohol, you quickly learn to suppress your words, your emotions, and even your thoughts, or else you risk triggering a drug binge or an alcoholic bender. You soon find yourself carrying that emotional hesitation to other areas of your life. Do you:
- Feel sad or helpless all the time?
- Blow up at others?
- Have difficulty enjoying things that used to bring you pleasure?
- Avoid speaking up when things are bothering you?
- Feel afraid or nervous without knowing why?
Living with an actively-addicted person can drain you and damage your emotional health. It is entirely possible that you could be suffering from depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Question #5 – Are You Putting the Needs of the Addict/Alcoholic before Your Own – or Your Family’s?
Addiction can rob a person of the ability to manage their own life or even take care of their basic needs. This is where you try to step in and support them. But that allows them to spend all of their time, money, and attention on drug/alcohol-seeking behavior. Do you regularly:
- Pay their rent and/or utilities?
- Buy their food?
- Make their car or insurance payment?
- Bail them out of jail?
- Pay their fines/attorney’s fees?
- Fall behind on your own bills because you have spent your money on their needs?
- Miss time at work because you were tending to them?
- Lose sleep because you are staying up or looking for them?
- Skip family functions because you don’t want to be embarrassed?
Every dollar you spend on them is a dollar saved to be spent later on drugs or alcohol.
Question #6 – Do You Deny That There Is a Problem?
This is where you lie to YOURSELF – justifying, minimizing, excusing, and putting up with all manner of dangerous or abusive behaviors. Have you ever:
- Described their behavior with “At least he/she isn’t…”
- Been the victim of abuse or violence because of drugs or alcohol?
- Gotten mad at someone else who brought up your loved one’s substance abuse?
- Turned a blind eye when they stayed out all night, acted suspiciously, or stole money from you?
- Believe that everything could be perfect again if they just STOPPED?
If you answered “YES” to ANY of these questions, there is a possibility that you are enabling a substance abuser. All of your efforts are NOT going to stop their drinking and using. In fact, two things ARE certain –
- Their addiction is only going to worsen and make your life even more unmanageable.
- You’re going to resent your loved one.
It IS possible to break the cycle of codependency and addiction. It is possible for you to learn how to detach with love, so your addict/alcoholic can deal with their disease. When you start focusing on YOURSELF first, you put yourself in the best possible situation to be able to help them when they start to help themselves.
Northpoint Recovery offers residential drug and alcohol rehab services to suffering substance abusers and their families. By combining the latest in evidence-based protocols, traditional 12-Step philosophies, and total-wellness holistic therapies, Northpoint can help restore sobriety, serenity, and sanity to your life.