What Does It Mean to Enable Someone?

Understanding what it Means to Enable Someone

Enabling is a term often used with substance use disorders. It refers to behaviors that allow someone else to continue their addiction without facing the consequences of their actions. Enabling allows the addicted person to continue using without experiencing the full effects of their behavior. It is the opposite of tough love, and it causes more harm than good in the long run. Enabling can come in many different forms, but it all serves the same purpose: to keep the person from dealing with their addiction and its effects.

What Is an Enabler?

Enablers ignore, deny or minimize problems related to the addict’s substance abuse, protect the addict from adverse effects, and do things for the addict that they can and should do for themselves (such as making excuses when they don’t work). An enabler ignores the problem or doesn’t recognize the problem exists. Unfortunately, their enabling actions often help create tension within the family structure and can cause resentment towards others who see what is happening but feel powerless to stop it.

The Connection Between Enabling and Codependency

Enabling is one of the many ways a loved one can exhibit codependent behavior. Codependency and enabling behaviors are learned by being in a relationship with a person who has a SUD. Unfortunately, many of these codependent behaviors are unhealthy for both people and make it harder for the addicted person to get well.

You may be unintentionally contributing to your loved one’s problem if you show these enabling or codependent behaviors:

  • Feel like you need others’ approval to be happy or feel good.
  • Don’t express your feelings for fear that they’ll upset others.
  • Feel responsible for other people’s feelings and problems.
  • Making excuses for the addicted person’s behavior.
  • Lying to your loved one about his whereabouts or activities.
  • Ignoring your own needs to take care of the addict’s needs.
  • Take on extra responsibilities at home or work because your loved one cannot do them.
  • Making excuses for an addict’s behavior.
  • Lying about an addict’s drug use (including lying to yourself).
  • You ignore signs of drug use, addiction, and relapse to maintain the status quo.

6 Reasons Why Families Use Enabling Behaviors

The loved ones of individuals with a SUD face a problematic situation where they want to help their loved one. Unfortunately, too often, they turn to behaviors that enable the addiction for the following reasons:

  • Fear of abandonment: Your loved one has threatened to leave you or the family if you don’t comply with their demands.
  • Wants to protect the family: The thought that you may lose your family unit if your loved one leaves can be overwhelming for some who enable a substance user’s behavior.
  • Lack of knowledge: Most people have a minimal understanding of addiction or substance use problems. They may not know what to do or say, so they fall back on enabling behaviors.
  • To spare pain: Families often use enabling to spare themselves and their loved ones from pain. That includes fear, anxiety, and disappointment. These are common emotions people experience when discovering that a loved one struggles with a substance use disorder (SUD).
  • To avoid conflict: A family member might also want to avoid conflict. Confronting a loved one about a SUD may seem complex and unpleasant. It may result in arguments or even physical violence, especially if the person is under the influence at the confrontation.
  • To help them succeed: Enabling can also be a reaction to seeing your loved one struggle in life.

Why Is Enabling a Problem?

There are many negative consequences for the person with a SUD that is enabled:

  • Enabling can lead to more frequent abuse of drugs and alcohol. Without intervention, the loved one with a substance use disorder will continue to use and may have an increased risk of overdose or death.
  • Enabling leads to loss. The person who enables is often penalized for the person’s SUD through loss of relationships, career, or home.
  • Enabling can lead to legal consequences if they engage in activities such as stealing or lying on behalf of the loved one.

Overcoming Your Enabling Behaviors

The first step is to identify your enabling behaviors. This can be a difficult task, as you may have become so accustomed to them that they feel like second nature. Here are some other ways you can cease using enabling behaviors:

  • See the big picture. Enabling often stems from the desire to help someone. However, if this person is suffering from an addiction, it’s essential to step back and see how their condition has changed since you started helping them — whether it’s for the better or the worse. If there are no signs of improvement, it’s time to take a break from enabling and step away for a while.
  • Set boundaries. It’s okay to set boundaries if you feel trapped by your loved one’s situation. For example, if that person is constantly asking you for money, avoid giving them cash and instead offer gift cards or other pre-paid options limiting the amount of money they can spend on drugs or alcohol. Or, if they need rides to work, consider only giving them rides on certain days of the week.
  • Be honest with yourself. Once you’ve identified your enabling behaviors, it’s time to be honest about what they’re doing for your loved one and how they affect your life. It might be helpful to list the impact on your life.
  • Encourage your loved one to seek treatment for their substance use disorder (SUD). Talk with them about treatment options and help them find treatment if needed. Many different kinds of therapy can help a person recover from SUD.

Using enabling behaviors to try and help someone suffering from a SUD impedes that person’s chances of getting help or overcoming the problem. Enabling behaviors can lead to resentment and family conflict and are counter-productive in helping your loved one overcome their addiction. Unfortunately, enabling can complicate an individual’s recovery plans and only worsen the situation because it allows users to continue using illicit substances. Restoration Recovery Center believes that every family should have the help it needs to battle SUD. We provide family counseling to help families recover from this devastating illness and rebuild their lives together. Many participants find that enrolling their family in counseling motivates them to get well and supports them as they work toward a healthier future. If you or a loved one needs treatment, contact us today at (888) 290-0925 to learn more about our treatment program. 

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