Are You an Addiction Enabler?

Empowering someone to do things is often seen as a positive trait. However, there’s a stark difference between encouraging someone to succeed versus enabling an addiction. What are the signs of being an enabler? Understanding how to stop being an enabler in a relationship may save your loved one’s life.

An issue often overlooked in the sphere of addiction is the influence of family and friends. People who are suffering from substance use disorder need a community that supports their treatment and recovery, regardless of how the people using drugs or alcohol may feel. Strong social support is one of the keys to long-term, successful substance use disorder recovery.

Many family members often wonder if they should be firm with their loved ones with addictions or cave in to their requests. You may see this scenario in reality TV shows such as My 600-Lb. Life where spouses, children, or extended family enable overeating behaviors. The same logic applies to addiction–when loved ones give in to the addict’s cravings and requests, the condition of substance use disorder worsens.

Sometimes, this passive behavior is misconstrued for being loving or merciful, but it is actually the opposite. Family members may not be aware that they are being enablers themselves. Thus, it is important to know the signs that point to being an enabler, and how to stop enabling bad behavior.

How to Recognize the Signs of Enabling

To stop enabling someone with an addiction, it’s important to know the signs of being an enabler. It’s also useful to define what an enabler is.

An addiction enabler is someone who directly or indirectly contributes to a progressing substance use disorder problem. The term “directly” and “indirectly” is important in this definition because it helps us see the not-so-obvious signs of being an enabler.

Recognizing Enabling Behaviors and Their Hazards

It is easy to assume that addiction recovery lies solely on the individual without considering the huge role you can play in their success. What are the dangers that lie ahead when loved ones don’t understand how to stop being an enabler?

Why enabling is a bad idea:

  • An addiction can quickly progress. The progression of substance use disorder (SUD) is unpredictable, but the odds of people developing them increase when they have free access to their addiction of choice. By being an enabler, you increase the likelihood that a mild problem will become moderate, or a moderate problem will become severe.
  • Enabling can become a habit. Frequently allowing your loved one access to drugs or alcohol when they request them can become a habit. You might try to justify such use, saying it isn’t harmful when it actually is.
  • Deadly health problems can arise. You may have sent your loved one to rehab, but there’s still a danger if you are prone to enabling behaviors. Your recovering loved one may experience a fatal overdose if you give into their addiction cravings. Additionally, enabling behaviors left unchecked can lead to severe drug-related health problems.
  • You can experience strained relationships. Other family members who do not approve of your addiction-encouraging habits may end up resenting you, not knowing how to deal with an enabler. In some instances, you and your addicted loved one can have a stormy relationship, especially if both of you are looking for someone to blame for your problems.

The cons of enabling behaviors truly outweigh their benefits, if there are any. After understanding the risks, people might want to study some ways they can avoid enabling behavior.

Ways to Stop Enabling

There are different methods for stopping enabling behaviors. Many start with specific attitudes and a commitment to finally end enabling.

One Method to Stop Being an Enabler

One of the best ways to stop being an enabler is seeking outside intervention. Often, enabling habits are difficult to break without professional help. You may start implementing some strategies here and there, but if you overlook important considerations, you and your loved one might end up in the same patterns of addiction and enabling.

Many families seek the help of addiction specialists who can provide the following services:

  • Inpatient rehab: Residential treatment could give a loved one a solid opportunity to undergo formal treatment for addiction and start to form new habits. Top-notch rehab centers offer medically supervised drug and alcohol detoxification procedures (detox) as well as evidence-based treatments to ensure safer and more effective recoveries.
  • Family counseling: During and after rehab, you can have the opportunity to meet with counselors or therapists to discuss points of weakness in your loved one’s environment that could trigger their addictions. Such discussions are also chances for you to understand your loved one’s addiction triggers, how to modify the environment, and how you can firmly say “no” to cravings even when it seems difficult.
  • Mental health services: Family members can also go to mental health counseling to treat the trauma they received from their loved ones’ struggles with addiction. Sometimes, enabling behaviors relate to jaded or passive attitudes toward the people with the addictions. Seeking mental health services for yourself is also a good idea to understand addiction and your role in it.

If you are serious about stopping enabling behaviors, the strategies mentioned above could be your first steps. After seeking professional help, you can also keep enabling habits at bay by considering other tips.

Tips for Ending Enabling Behaviors Toward a Loved One

Keep addiction triggers away

Addiction triggers are any type of stimuli (sights, smells, sounds, tastes, or situations) that encourage the use of drugs or alcohol. During family counseling, you may be oriented to your loved one’s addiction triggers. By avoiding or minimizing these stimuli, you might lower the chances of substance cravings and the risk of relapses.

Encourage healthy habits

Idleness and boredom are common triggers for many. You can encourage healthy habits such as exercise, eating nutritious food, or productive hobbies by joining your loved ones in these activities. If this is not possible, you can offer praise and words of motivation to help them continue in these endeavors.

Model desired behaviors

Subconsciously, our loved ones imitate what they see in us. Whether you’re a parent, spouse, or a child, you can model desired behaviors by being consistent with it yourself. For example, if your loved one is recovering from alcoholism, you can model helpful behaviors by committing not to drink alcohol for their sake.

Keep going

Relapse is a part of some people’s recovery journey. Do not be discouraged if you or your loved ones experience slips and mishaps along the way. One setback doesn’t mean the whole process is a failure. Instead, commit to a fresh start and keep going.

What Are You Enabling?

Are you an enabler? If so, what are you enabling? By knowing the signs of being an addiction enabler, you can help end the downward spiral of a loved one’s substance use disorder and instead provide the right kind of support for a better life.

Sources – My 600-Pound Life: The Enablers’ Story – The Importance of Consistency – Loss of Tolerance and Overdose Mortality After Inpatient Opiate Detoxification: Follow-Up Study – 10 Habits to Maintain Good Health – Why Do Alcoholics and Addicts Relapse So Often?

Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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