Enabling Love or Enabling Abuse?

Is your addicted loved one pissed off at you? Then you may be doing something right.

So much of what we believe we’re doing out of love for an addict is actually enabling their problem. Do you clean up after them? Do you pay their bills or give them money? Do you work overtime to make up for their losses?

Anything a person does that makes life easier for an addict is enabling.

Another way of thinking of this is adapting. You, and others in your family, make it comfortable for the substance abuser to use. This is not to blame you; your adapting is a coping mechanism. How can you deny help to someone you love when they appear so wounded, even if that wound is self-inflicted?

When Something Is Wrong

Don’t be naïve. If you see changes in your loved one’s life, especially destructive ones, and their excuses and stories don’t seem to fit with their history, be skeptical. Truth is the first casualty.

If it’s your child: If their grades fall, they lose interest in groups or activities, or if their friends change, these could be important signs of substance abuse. When you ask then where they were, do they get defensive? How do they look? Do they have blotchy skin, bloodshot eyes, dilated pupils? Do they look tired? Do they smell different? Have their hygienic habits changed?

If it’s your partner or spouse: Adults can be harder to read. They may be more practiced in the arts of deception. Do they come home late from work or go out on weekends? Are they scant with details of their whereabouts? Are they not at the office when they say they were? Have they struggled with substance abuse in the past? Does a quick “trip to the store” turn into a four-hour disappearance? Have they gotten lazy?

Are you an Enabler? How to Know the Difference.

More than enabling, helping your loved one continue their addiction makes you a codependent in the addiction. Ask yourself these questions to understand whether you are helping or harming:

  • Do often ignore what is otherwise unacceptable behavior?
  • Do you feel anger or resentment for the responsibilities you take on for them?
  • Are you clearly expressing yourself and your emotions?
  • Do you feel that you are being heard?
  • Do you find yourself lying for them?

Love as Blackmail

Loved ones, parents especially, may continue to give money to the substance abuser knowing full well that they will use the money to get high. But, they fear, if they refuse to give the addict money they will do something desperate to get it elsewhere, like rob, steal, sell drugs, etc.

This is emotional blackmail.

It is also in their words: It is you that needs to change, not them; It’s not their fault they’re a substance abuser, it’s circumstances (or you!); This is not a good time for them to stop using, there’s too much going on/not enough going on/their emotional state isn’t right, and on and on.

Make no mistake: This type of behavior is abusive.

Someone You Don’t Know

Maybe your loved one never acted like this before. Understand that they have changed. Their brains have been chemically reprogrammed. For them, substance abuse is compulsive and it forces them into making self-destructive choices. If they had a brain disorder to begin with – such as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, etc. – substance abuse will make them even more stressed, depressed, and anxious. They also become self-centered and wholly focused on not feeling the sickness of withdrawal: Avoiding that sickness of withdrawal becomes their primary impulse. They believe staying high is the only way out.

How You Can Help Without Enabling

  • Cooperation: Everyone in the family must be all in. If all the addict has to do is move on to the next family member to find an enabler, the whole plan fails. As long as they have an outlet and a loophole, they will continue to use: The boundaries must be clear and respected by all.
  • Money: Drugs and alcohol cost money. They will also cost the addict’s ability to make money. Sooner or later, chances are your addicted loved one will come to you for money. And if they get it from you, they will come again. Why do they need this money? They will always have a story ready.

    What to do? Verify.

    You can ask for pay stubs, rent receipts, credit card bills, etc. to see where the money is going. Expect resistance. Or, if they live out of town, you can go see them. Do they look healthy or do they look sick and tired? Do they look underweight and have sores on their face?

  • Shelter: Like cooperation above, if the addict gets kicked out of the home of one family member, but is taken in by another, the enabling continues. No one family member can be the back-up plan or fail-safe.
  • Blame: In these situations, families can, in wanting to provide support to the addict, engage them in discussions placing blame for their addiction. The addict will tend to want to blame everyone but themselves. But accepting that they have a substance problem and taking responsibility for it is difficult. As long as they’re placing the blame outside of themselves, they will never get better.

Why Is Blame Harmful?

Blame is an automatic defensive response. It is a reaction to the shame that comes with substance abuse, addiction, and the stigma that comes with them.

Blame is dangerous because finding something else to blame for the addiction keeps the responsibility off of the addicted. This will insure that they never get better and that they never move forward. Negative patterns and habits only continue and worsen. Blame keeps you sick.

In treatment, the addict will address the cycle of blame. They will face and confront the resentments, anger, and trauma that led to substance use and abuse. They will learn that they have more control over their behavior than they think. It is the only way forward.

If you or a loved one feels a need to overcome an addiction, contact BLVD Treatment Centers. At BLVD Treatment Centers we custom tailor our recovery programs within the safe and nurturing confines of our rehab treatment centers. Located throughout Southern California, in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego and in Portland, OR, our mission is to assess the severity of your addiction to help you achieve true recovery. Call us now at 1-866.582.9844.

Is It Love or Is It Enabling? How to Help an Addict and Not Hurt Them.