Having a spouse, parent, adult child, or other loved one who suffers from an addiction to drugs or alcohol is not easy. You hate to watch the person you care about struggle, but your efforts to help can do more harm than good when you end up enabling substance abuse.
The term enabling refers to any behavior that allows someone with an addiction to continue their substance abuse without experiencing the natural consequences of their actions. Consequences are how people learn and grow—even when those consequences are painful.
At Waypoint Recovery Center, we understand that addiction is an illness that affects the entire family. Our South Carolina drug and alcohol addiction treatment services include a family program that promotes unity, stability, and a stronger family dynamic. One of the topics we discuss is how to determine if you are enabling a loved one’s addiction.
Do You Keep Quiet to Avoid a Fight?
When you decide to bite your tongue and stay quiet instead of speaking up about behavior that is clearly inappropriate, you’re temporarily avoiding conflict. Unfortunately, ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away.
When you see signs that clearly indicate a problem with drugs or alcohol, such as changes in personality or behavior, bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, poor personal hygiene, or an unusual need for money, you need to push past your fear of conflict and speak up. Addiction is a progressive illness that affects a person’s judgment and problem-solving skills. Often, someone abusing drugs or alcohol genuinely believes their behavior is normal.
Speaking up means addressing the concerning behaviors you’ve noticed in a calm, non-judgmental way. You can’t force someone with an addiction to change their behavior, but you can create an environment that promotes open communication and accountability.
Do You Lie or Make Excuses?
This starts off innocently enough. You might say that your loved one is “tired” or “has the flu” when they miss an important family event. Or, you might tell your friends that your loved one’s changed behavior is due to “stress” at work.
The problem is that lying and making excuses becomes a habit. When you automatically minimize the problem, those around you are less likely to realize that your loved one has a serious illness. If you addressed the issue honestly and openly, you’d likely find that others have similar concerns and are willing to help. For example, if you’re lying to your in-laws about your spouse’s drinking habits, telling the truth and working together to plan an intervention would be a more productive way to handle the situation.
Do You Give Your Loved One Money or Pay Their Bills?
Financial problems commonly accompany addiction. If you are giving your loved one money directly—or paying bills on their behalf—you are preventing them from experiencing the full consequences of their behavior. This is true even if you frame your help as a loan since someone with an active addiction is unlikely to repay your generosity.
Cutting off financial support is not going to be easy—and it’s quite possible your loved one will be very angry with you. However, saying no is a necessary step in encouraging them to seek treatment. Be firm and continue to stress that any future support you choose to provide is contingent on participation in a recognized treatment program.
Do You Intervene When Law Enforcement Gets Involved?
Getting arrested is a “rock bottom” moment for many people with addiction. A DUI, a charge for illegal drug possession, or allegations of theft related to substance abuse can force someone with an addiction to acknowledge the full extent of their problem. If you interfere with an investigation or drain your own savings for the best lawyer money can buy, your actions prevent your loved one from experiencing the consequences of continued substance abuse.
Note that some offenders may be offered a deal that includes court-ordered treatment instead of jail time. Although it would be ideal if your loved one chose to seek treatment voluntarily, court-ordered treatment can still be effective at instigating the changes necessary to move towards long-term recovery.
Do You Take Care of Your Loved One’s Needs Before Your Own?
It’s natural to want to step in to help someone you care about who is obviously struggling, but it’s dangerous to put their needs before your own. If you’re so busy cleaning up their mistakes that you don’t have time for sleep, exercise, healthy meals, and stress-relieving hobbies, that’s a red flag.
Attending a support group for people who have spouses, adult children, or other loved ones with addiction can help you get back to caring for your own needs. Making an appointment to see a private counselor or therapist is also an option to consider.
Please note that you should never put your own physical safety in danger. If your loved one becomes violent, call 911 immediately.