Despite the tremendous stigma surrounding addiction, statistics show that most people are closely acquainted with this disease.
In fact, the Pew Research Center found that 46 percent of Americans have a close friend or family member who has been addicted to drugs.
Statistics also show that nearly half of Canadians have used an illicit drug at some point in their lifetime, with 70 percent of Canadians surveyed saying that opioid use is either a serious problem or a full-blown crisis.
Active addiction is usually accompanied by secrecy, denial, and manipulation, all of which can confuse and overwhelm those who are close to the person afflicted with this disease.
And while an individual might believe that their love and protection will ultimately help their addicted friend or family member, this well-meaning person may end up keeping their loved one in the cycle of addiction due to their own actions.
This is often where enabling comes in. But what exactly does this term mean? And how can you know whether you’re enabling or supporting someone who’s struggling with addiction?
What is enabling?
First, let’s define what enabling is as it relates to addiction. While differing definitions do exist, enabling refers to behaviours that protect a person from the consequences of their actions. When an addicted individual is shielded from those ramifications, their addiction is allowed to continue.
There are different examples of what enabling behaviour can look like. A family member may make excuses for someone who struggles with addiction or try to deny or justify their choices.
A spouse who calls in sick for their partner with alcoholism may be accused of enabling behaviour. A parent who provides their addicted (and fully grown) son or daughter with money or other caretaking behaviours may also be seen as someone who enables.
Even making attempts to control the addicted person’s plans, putting the addicted person’s needs ahead of one’s own, or making threats with no follow-through can be considered enabling.
Many loved ones frame their enabling behaviours as “helping”. But enabling and helping are not the same things. Many people define enabling as doing anything for an addicted person that this person is capable of doing (and should be doing) himself or herself.
Helping, on the other hand, can involve providing assistance with things that an addicted person is unable to do or things that will help an addicted person regain control over his or her life.
For example, providing financial resources to allow your loved one to receive treatment at drug rehab in Toronto would fall under the category of support; giving that person money that might well be spent on drugs would be considered enabling.
Signs you might be enabling your loved one
Some signs of enabling behaviour are easier to spot than others. But if you love someone who may have a substance abuse problem, it’s essential that you learn to recognize these signs in your own life and take steps to make positive changes.
Although you cannot control the decisions of your loved one, you can eliminate the enabling behaviours that may allow this person to continue in their cycle of active addiction.
Signs of enabling may include:
- Providing a venue to use drugs or alcohol
- Ignoring your loved one’s substance abuse and unacceptable behaviours
- Providing money or transportation to obtain drugs or alcohol
- Lying for your loved one to cover up their addiction
- Shifting blame to justify your loved one’s behaviour
- Denying or explaining away your loved one’s addictive behaviours
- Cleaning up (literal or figurative) messes made by your loved one
- Taking over your loved one’s responsibilities
- Being afraid to express emotions or to confront your loved one
- Experiencing resentment towards your loved one
- Failing to set or reinforce boundaries
- Making empty threats and failing to follow through
- Consistently putting your loved one’s needs ahead of your own
- Experiencing immense emotional and/or financial stress due to your loved one’s addiction
If you have a friend or relative who is struggling with substance abuse, keep in mind that you cannot make this person change.
Not only does this individual have a chronic disease, but they will seek treatment only when he or she wants to change. However badly you want that change for your loved one, you aren’t in control of that.
But what you can control is whether or not you enable your loved one’s harmful behaviours. By becoming aware of your own patterns and making changes when warranted, you can help facilitate positive outcomes and find much-deserved peace in your own life.