Being the family member or loved one of an addict is an extremely trying and confusing position to be in. Feelings of guilt and helplessness are very common, and it is likely that at the root of these upsetting emotions is a strong sense of ambivalence around whether you are, in fact, enabling an addict. This can be a very difficult truth to come to terms with, because an addict generally does not have the means or wherewithal to take care of their basic needs, so enabling often feels like the right thing to do because you are “saving” the addict from being in an even worse position than they already are. How do you know when enabling is the right thing to do? How can you tell if you are enabling at all?
It is never a good idea to enable.
Enabling an addict is the same as enabling their addiction. As long as an addict has support to feed off, it will continue. Enabling an addict prolongs “rock bottom,” and thus prolongs the addiction, allowing it to have a more and more harmful effect on the addict.
There are several ways in which a person can act as an enabler.
If you are giving an addict money in any capacity, you are enabling them. Even if this money is for something seemingly important like food or car repair, you are allowing them to buy more drugs or alcohol. You can enable an addict without giving them money directly. If you are paying their bills or buying them food or feeding them at all, you are also enabling them. It may seem mean or unfair to deny a person food, but the reality is, the longer their basic needs are being met, the longer they are not dealing with the consequences of their addiction. Even young people need consequences and teen interventions are not uncommon.
You are also enabling if you are providing free shelter to an addict.
This can be particularly difficult because you are likely worried about where an addict will stay if they are not living with you. Unfortunately, you simply cannot allow an addict to stay with you. Like feeding them, providing shelter is giving them one of their basic needs, and thus allowing an addiction to continue. You must trust that, left to their own devices, an addict will hit rock bottom and realize the need for them to get clean. Remember that once an addict has started to recover, you can and should support them.
Lying for an addict is another way of enabling them.
Whether you are lying to other friends or family members or their employers, lying is a way of assisting them in the web of deception that is necessary to keep an addiction going. It may seem like you are helping them stay afloat by covering for them, but, again, the reality is, you must allow the structures in an addict’s life to crumble so they can truly recognize the consequences and severity of their addiction. They simply will not get better until they start to take responsibility for their own lives.
Once you stop enabling an addict, be prepared for them to be upset, and for them to employee more methods of manipulating you. An addict cares only about procuring more drugs, and it is likely that they have developed some very effective ways of manipulating people into getting what they want. Try not to allow your loved one to make you feel guilty or neglectful. Remember that while cutting off support is difficult in the short term, you are actually helping the addict find the path toward recovery, which is the most critical and helpful thing you can do for them.