Are You Enabling Your Loved One’s Addiction?

This article is by Audra Franchini and published by RCA


When someone you care about is suffering from substance abuse disorder (SUD), your instinct may be to do whatever you can do to help them. However, even with the best of intentions, you can do more harm than good if the help you offer is actually enabling.

Enabling. What does that mean, anyway? It means that even if your intentions are in the right place, when you offer help to your loved one who is struggling with addiction, the help you give inadvertently perpetuates the problem.

Enabling behavior is often confused with being supportive, and it can be hard to tell the difference. To help you identify whether you are helping or hurting your loved one with an SUD, this blog dives into the topic of enablement and calls out the sure-fire signs that you are stuck in an unhealthy cycle that is contributing to the continuation of your loved one’s addiction.

Are You Helping or Hurting? Signs You Are Enabling

No one wants their loved ones to hurt. And that’s why family and friends of people with substance abuse disorder can fall into the trap of turning a blind eye or stepping in to save the day. However, by circumventing negative consequences, you may be allowing your loved one to continue down a destructive path and enabling the disease of addiction to progress and continue.

Identifying whether you are stuck in an enabling pattern is critical for the safety and welfare of everyone involved. To help, we made this quick check list.

You are most likely enabling your loved one’s addiction if you:

  • Hide the truth from others or make excuses for someone with a SUD when their addiction causes problems
  • Put your loved one’s needs and/or addiction ahead of your own needs
  • Give them money or support their SUD financially
  • Help them get out of trouble instead of letting them learn from the consequences of their actions
  • Deny there is anything wrong or that the person has a SUD
  • Believe the problem is not so bad and that the person with the SUD can overcome it on their own
  • Blame yourself for your loved one’s problems
  • Compromise your values and integrity, or put aside your own interests, to avoid rejection

If you can identify with one of more of these bullet points, understand you are hurting your loved one, not helping. But there is hope. You can break the cycle, now.

How to Stop Enabling Your Loved One’s Addiction

If you have determined you are enabling someone with substance abuse disorder, know that in recognizing this behavior you have taken your first step in breaking the cycle.

Now, it is time to take action and make changes. One of the most loving things you can do is let your loved one experience consequences and face the reality of their situation. Set up healthy boundaries and stop allowing the unhealthy behavior to continue. Examples of healthy boundaries include saying no to giving them money and other financial support (e.g., paying rent, bail, attorney fees, etc.) and setting clear rules around if and how they can contact you. This will likely be difficult, and you may have to seek counseling and support.

Once someone with substance abuse disorder faces the reality of their situation, they may be more likely to seek and accept treatment from trained professionals.

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