If you have a loved one with a substance use disorder, you know that there is a fine line between helping and enabling. While your main focus is to support your loved one through their addiction and recovery, too much help may wind up resulting in enabling behaviors.
What is enabling?
Enabling behavior shields people from experiencing the full impact and consequences of their behavior. While you think you might be being helpful, you might actually be fueling a loved one’s disorder and preventing him from seeking or working recovery.
So, are you helping or enabling? Start by asking yourself these questions:
- Do I keep secrets about my loved one’s substance use disorder or behaviors in order to protect him or her or keep the family peace?
- Do I make excuses for my loved one? Examples: To teachers, employers, other family members, etc.
- Do I get my loved one out of trouble? Examples: Paying debt, hiring lawyers, bailing out of jail, etc.
- Do I blame others for my loved one’s addiction?
- Do I attribute my loved one’s disorder to an underlying factor? Examples: Depression, adolescence, broken home, etc.
- Do I pretend that the problem doesn’t exist? Example: Ignore behaviors or act like everything is ok when it’s not.
- Do I give money to my loved one that isn’t earned?
- Do I try to control situations that are not in my control? Example: Get my loved one a job, plan activities, choose friends, have teens drink alcohol under your own roof, etc.
- Do I make threats but not follow through? Example: Saying your teen is grounded but then not following through with the punishment.
- Do I clean up after my loved one?
If you answered “yes” to one or more of the above questions, you may be enabling your loved one’s addiction.
In order to avoid enabling a loved one, work on developing positive behaviors to support your loved one in recovery. For example, always support their recovery efforts. This includes being conscious of the types of situations and interactions in which you interact with you loved one. On a related note, set boundaries and levels of which you will help out. It’s important to be helpful but let your loved one deal with their own consequences.
In addition to developing positive behaviors, work on ending negative or enabling ones. For starters, let your loved one take responsibility for their lives, including personal responsibilities and legal troubles. Taking responsibility for getting their life back in order and taking on personal responsibilities like these can help them regain a sense of purpose and build confidence.
Family and Friend Need Support Too
It’s important to remember that although you aren’t the one with a substance use disorder, you have a lot on your plate that you are dealing with. You are not alone! Private counseling or family counseling can help you identify helpful behaviors vs. enabling behaviors so that you support your loved one in the best way possible. You can also learn self-care strategies that you can implement right away to be your best version of yourself.
If you need help, please call our patient support specialists at (716) 831-1800.