Are You Enabling a Drug Addict?

Are You Enabling a Drug Addict?

Around 23.5 million Americans struggle with drug and alcohol addiction, a number equivalent to the population of Texas. With so many individuals struggling with addiction, there is an untold number of family members and friends who also suffer from the consequences of drug and alcohol abuse.

Unfortunately, drug abuse and addiction are highly stigmatized. When family and friends are confronted with the addiction of a loved one, it can be overwhelming. It’s all-too-easy for family and friends of addicts to deny, blame, cover up, and otherwise enable and excuse the family member’s behavior. The following article will explore what it means to enable a drug abuser, and how family members can recognize these behaviors and stop engaging in them.

What does it mean to enable someone’s drug addiction?

Enabling in cases of drug or alcohol addiction means to shield, cover up, or otherwise prevent the addict from experiencing the full consequences of their behavior. When a family member or a friend engage in a behavior that allows the addict to continue to use drugs or alcohol, that’s enabling.

What are the signs and symptoms of enabling behavior?

Sometimes, family members know they are enabling an addict, but they are unable to stop. They may be afraid that the addict will become angry with them and retaliate, or they may think that enabling the addict will shield other family members from the consequences of their behavior. But in many cases, enabling is a result of denial. Family and friends just don’t want to believe that their loved one is an addict.

Admitting the problem and facing it head on can be terrifying. Family members may fear how the addiction reflects on them, or how acknowledging that the person is an addict will force them to make difficult choices they don’t think they can make.

These enabling behaviors and the fears that they stem from them are some of the reasons why family therapy is so crucial in addiction recovery. An experienced therapist can help family members recognize codependent and enabling behavior, understand why it happens, and figure out ways to prevent it from occurring in the future.

Some of the most common ways that family members enable loved ones with drug addiction are:

  • Cover up about the addict’s behavior.
  • Make excuses for their behavior.
  • Bail the addict out of jail, or pay their legal fees.
  • Blame other people or circumstances for their behavior.
  • Recognize the problem, but attribute it to something other than drug or alcohol addiction.
  • Avoid the addicted family member to avoid conflict or stress.
  • Give the addict, money.
  • Attempt to control the addict by choosing their friends, what job they take, or where they live.
  • Make threats to change, but never follow through with them or only change enabling behaviors inconsistently.
  • Engage in excessive caretaking.

Why do family members often fall into the trap of enabling?

The desire to help other people, especially a family member or a close friend, is a natural and powerful instinct. When someone becomes addicted to drugs, they begin to suffer many different consequences. For their family and friends, the drive to help the addict with their problems is strong and difficult to overcome. The impulse to help backfires and often has tragic consequences for everyone involved.

When someone becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol, the neural pathways in the brain that are responsible for risk and reward are rewired. The person is dependent on the drugs to feel “normal.” Quitting means they will experience painful physical and emotional withdrawal symptoms. To continue fueling their addiction and avoid pain, addicts will engage in many different manipulative behaviors to keep using drugs.

When family ties are involved, and powerful emotions of love and family loyalty enter the equation, family members can quickly find themselves engaging in enabling behaviors without even realizing it. It’s natural for people to want to help those who are down on their luck. But if someone has lost their job or their home as a consequence of their drug addiction, trying to help them by giving them money or a place to stay only prolongs the cycle of substance abuse. It does not provide the addicted person the chance to face their problems head-on and change.

When the problems of addiction are masked or otherwise covered up, everyone can continue to operate in a state of denial. Families allow the fear of what could happen to their loved one if they were to experience the full consequences of their drug addiction trap them in a cycle of enabling.

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It can be stressful and terrifying for family members to stop enabling the addict. Enabling gives loved ones the illusion of control and safety, but enabling prolongs unhealthy behaviors while the addict becomes sicker and sicker from drug or alcohol abuse. It’s crucial that to stop the cycle of enabling, family members realize that no matter what, they do not have control over another person’s actions. They can only control their behavior and change how they react to situations.

What can family members do?

  • Get outside support. Attending 12-step meetings or therapy sessions that are designed for families of addicts can give loved ones the tools they need to make positive changes in their lives.
  • Stop shielding the addicted loved one from the consequences of their drug or alcohol abuse. This may include not loaning them money, not paying their bills, or not giving them a place to live.
  • Follow through with plans to stop enabling. Being inconsistent, or making empty promises to change will only prolong the cycle of drug abuse.

Watching a family member suffer the consequences of their drug addiction can be emotionally painful. It’s crucial that family members have outside help. If you’re struggling with enabling behavior, please reach out to an experienced drug abuse counselor today from Windward Way to find resources to help your loved one overcome their addiction.


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