How Enabling Undermines Treatment for Addiction

How Enabling Undermines Treatment for AddictionWhen a person enables a friend or family member who is struggling with addiction, they are doing so by taking away the consequences that inevitably come from being addicted to drugs or alcohol. Enabling can come in different disguises and is often unintentionally utilized. Helping to pay bills for an addict, making excuses for them, and avoiding confronting them about the problem are all forms of enablement. After that addict finally receives treatment for his addiction, the enabling behavior of friends or family members can undermine treatment and may even cause relapse.

Enabling behavior not only takes away the natural consequences that addicts need to face, it also takes away any incentive for the addict to change their behavior or seek help. In cases where an addict may already be in treatment for addiction, the enabling behavior of friends and family make it less likely that the addict will complete treatment and stay drug free.

People struggling with addiction typically go to great lengths in order to obtain and use their substance of choice. For instance, an addict may decide not to pay an important bill such as a utilities bill and instead spend that money on drugs or alcohol. As a natural consequence of not paying a utilities bill, the electricity and water is shut off. A family member may come to the rescue and pay the bill for the addict in order to get the lights turned back on. The family member had good intentions, however, the addict did not have to deal with his consequence and had no incentive to try and change. This enables the addict to continue abusing substances without consequences.

There are many different ways that friends and family members of struggling addicts behave in a way that could be enabling and they can include the following:

  • Making excuses for the addict in order to cover for them or keep them out of trouble
  • Bailing them out of jail for a drug related instance
  • Feeling guilty about the addict’s struggle with addiction
  • Taking personal risks in order to help the addict
  • Paying the addict’s bills or buying them food or clothing
  • Ignoring their struggle with addiction and avoiding confrontation about the problem

Enabling a person to continue using drugs and alcohol is the same as helping  her ruin her life and health.

Undermining treatment for addiction by enabling an addict to continue using abusive substances is a serious matter and could result in relapse, binging and even overdose. Not being supportive of the treatment an addict is receiving is another form of enablement.

How to Stop Being an Enabler of Addiction

Darlene Lancer of Psych Central helps explain how people can stop their enabling behavior and allow an addict to feel the necessary consequences of their actions. Lancer explains that addicts often don’t even realize what their actions have caused when they are under the influence. This makes it important for others to leave the evidence of what happened, such as big messes or broken things, for the addict to confront instead of cleaning them up. This may help the addict to witness what their actions caused after they come back down. Lancer goes on to say that friends and family should not clean up vomit or other messes from the addict or move them into bed if they pass out from being drunk or high.

When it comes to stopping enabling behavior, people may often have to weigh the short-term pain versus the long-term pain. In other words, something may have to be done, or not done, now that may be hard to do, but in the long run it will help avoid more pain and difficulty. Lancer also explains that in order to stop enabling behavior, it is important for people to conduct their lives in a manner that does not revolve around the addict and his behavior. If plans were made to go out somewhere but the addicted family member is having problems, leave them and go out anyway. Don’t allow the addict’s behavior to dictate what the family does.

Families Against Narcotics (FAN) gives some great lists of what enabling behavior is and how to stop it. They explain that helping an addict is doing something for them that they are truly unable to do themselves while enabling an addict is doing something for them that they can and should do themselves. FAN lists several different specific ways to stop enabling an addict including the following:

  • Do not loan an addict money
  • Do not be his or her alarm clock
  • Do not be afraid to file police reports against the addict for theft or violence
  • Do not be afraid to obtain a restraining order if necessary
  • Do not give them ultimatums unless you are absolutely able to back them up

The best way to help an addict is to allow them to feel the consequences of their actions. Professional treatment at a licensed rehab facility provides the best chances of a successful recovery from drug or alcohol addiction.

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