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There are many different signs of an enabler and what they do. While reading this, it’s important to ask yourself the hard questions. Are you the one enabling, or is it someone else in your family? It’s not helpful to an individual addicted to substances and should be identified and confronted.
It’s not a one-size-fits-all category. Anyone can be an enabler, even if their standard personality doesn’t seem to fit the bill. If someone is overly aggressive in their verbal communications, or self-proclaiming “I call it like I see it,” there’s still no evidence suggesting that any one type of person is incapable of being an enabler. It all comes down to their emotional connection with the person. In many cases, the enabler can be the mother, father, or grandparent. Their opinions mattered.
Enabling, or “empowering,” is detrimental to the recovery process of the individual. Many times, an enabler wishes to deny all the facts represented right in front of them, to protect their loved one and hold onto them. They believe that denial leads to everything staying the same, when in fact they’re putting their loved one in further danger by ignoring the facts.
A question many family members and loved ones of those who suffer from substance use disorders have is, "what’s the difference between enabling and helping?" Dr. Ashish Bhatt, MD explains.View All Videos
If your loved one is sneaking out at all hours of the night, (especially if they’re no longer teenagers and there’s no reason to hide this behavior) it’s your first red flag. Nobody enters drug use with pride. People will only brag about their intense drug use when it’s either “recreational,” and they feel as though they have it under control, or when in the company of other users, (potentially the same ones who roped your loved one into addiction in the first place).
I’ve seen it countless times; you can’t deny the facts before you and expect anything to change. It may be due to fear, pride (not wanting to admit that their child/relative could ever become addicted), and many other reasons. When you ignore withdrawal from usual social obligations such as missing work or being fired from numerous newly-acquired jobs in a short amount of time, it’s only fueling the fire. The sooner you approach addiction, the easier it is to get through to the individual.
It’s possible to enable the addiction while growing resentment for the addict. It’s what’s referred to as a self-fulfilling prophecy; the enabler is helping the user continue their behavior while increasingly disdaining the addicted because they’re continuing their addiction. It’s a vicious cycle.
Often times, we resent people quietly. It’s rarely out in the open for all to see, and it can be for a number of reasons. When you’re hiding the facts, ignoring them, and expecting things to change, it’s nothing short of a fable. Action needs to be taken, whether by an interventionist or a member of the family/close friend.
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When you’re trying to hide the fact that someone in your family is using drugs, you’ll ignore the signs, such as withdrawn behavior, physical abnormalities, and mood changes. Ignoring the facts can only lead to ruin. In some cases, an enabler may decide to blame another member of the family or the person’s close friend for the individual’s behavior.
The truth of the matter is, the enabler is hiding the person’s behavior. Somewhere in their head, they know that this is what they’re doing. It becomes more rational for them to once again avoid the initial conflict by enacting conflict with others, all to protect the person’s behavior. It may just be because they’re afraid of losing them, or a deeper-rooted issue, but it’s never helpful in pushing the individual towards a recovery option. There are times when another member of the family understands that there is an enabler and can’t seem to combat this on their own; this is when they call in an interventionist.
You know that the individual left late on a Sunday, or didn’t come to the wedding that they were already RSVP’d to, because they’re seeking another high. Apart from allowing them to get out of this obligation with no effort towards stopping them, someone’s going to ask where your loved one is. At that point, the enabler is going to begin making up excuses for absent or tardy behavior on the part of the person.
It’s all about maintaining control over the situation. An enabler doesn’t want their loved one to endure conflict, so they manage it on their behalf or make up excuses for their behavior. From the mind of an addicted person who’s only thinking about their next fix, this is a godsend. What enablers don’t understand is that when the individual finds help and recovers, they will question exactly what the enabler was doing and may make a harsh decision regarding their relationship. It’s immediate fear that drives their decisions. An enabler isn’t a bad person; they feel as though they’re trapped in a pitfall. Unfortunately, they are counter-intuitive to the recovery process.
An enabler who understands what’s going on and still makes excuses for their loved one’s behavior is unable to properly express their emotions. There may have been the thought of confronting their loved one, but it was quickly swept away by the desire to keep them safe. It goes further than just not being able to tell their loved one how they feel. It comes out in the form of making excuses, whether to themselves or others.
An enabler hiding from their own emotions is governed by fear. While this still doesn’t excuse their actions and can be a serious impediment for an individual seeking proper help, it’s another issue that needs to be addressed. In some cases, even after treatment, people can revert to their previous vices. It’s paramount that any previous enabler understands the negative effects of their actions.
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When an enabler makes up excuses for their loved ones, it predominantly derived from fear: fear of losing the individual to conflict or rehabilitation. When fear runs you, you’re not yourself.
There’s a whole different problem with enablers than there are with the addicted. They stand between the person and seeking proper help to enter recovery, but they are not doing this to be spiteful. They’re not inherently bad people; they’re afraid. This is where the excuses come from, where the enabling comes from.
Enablers prioritize the needs of an individual over their own. If rent is due, and you give a few hundred of it to your loved one with the full knowledge that they’re going to use it to get high, you’re damning yourself and others around you. Many feel that there is no right way to approach someone and talk to them openly about what’s going on. Instead, they enable.
Now, I ask you the hard question: are you an enabler of an addicted individual? Even in silence, if you can relate to any of the seven signs above, there’s a possibility that you’re enabling the actions of someone addicted to substances. It’s not an easy thing to overcome, but it’s necessary to move forward both for you and your loved one. I’ve seen far too many families create chasms between each other. Enabling only leads to more pain, on all sides. Take a good hard look and be honest with yourself; it’s not too late to do something about it.
It does involve a bit of bravery. You’re basically going to go against everything you’ve been doing, confusing the individual, which will show their true colors. Their minds are only thinking about one thing right now, and they know that you’ll help them get there, one way or another. Handing them money or ignoring when they steal from you; it’s all part of the same side of the coin.
Let’s look through those 7 steps above, one by one, and assign a corrective action.
If you notice something’s awry, talk to someone else in your family about it. Try and see if you’re just seeing things, or if there’s actually an underlying problem. It also omits you from inadvertently lying about future behavior when you’ve already brought the subject up to someone else
Resenting is only going to bring negative feelings, when in truth, they’re not themselves right now. The drug is controlling them. You know the real them. By resenting them (especially due to your own actions of enabling), you’re not going to pave the path to helping them.
If you’ve been enabling all along, you need to accept the fact that you’ve been hiding the person’s behavior and blaming others for behavioral changes. In fact, you’ve been the one enabling all along. If you can recall blaming others for problems that they weren’t even a part of, remedy the situation.
It’s easier said than done, but there’s only one way to get around it: stop lying. It’s a sensitive subject. You don’t want to splash around family dirty laundry, but at the same time, you can’t make excuses. It’s a catch twenty-two, and every case is different.
There’s often a fear that saying what’s on your mind is going to provoke the person and that they’ll never come back home. It’s a reasonable fear, since the individual’s mind is completely dependent on their drug of choice and prone to making them irrational. In these circumstances, don’t enable; talk to an interventionist about the right way to proceed.
Fear dictates every action when you allow it to. You need to think about the health of your loved one, and the potential that their addiction could prove fatal if left unchecked. They need help. You need to be brave and face the issues head on.
If you’re prioritizing the needs of the someone over your own (or the rest of your family’s), then you’re going to suffer in multiple areas. They’re not going to gain anything from you covering up for them or giving them money that they’re using for drugs. Stop prioritizing their addiction over the rest of your life.
When it comes down to it, an enabler is only driving their loved one’s addiction further. Even though this isn’t their goal, it’s the effect that comes from making excuses and letting things go unchecked. For instance, an enabler wouldn’t be able to properly set up an intervention, even after admitting to the fact that they are an enabler, and doing everything in their power to right their wrongs. You would need a professional interventionist to help not just the individual, but to help the entire family/circle of friends to create the proper environment to help their loved one, even after the stages of detox and rehab. For more information on interventions and treatment in general, contact a treatment provider today.
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Jeffrey Juergens earned his Bachelor’s and Juris Doctor from the University of Florida. Jeffrey’s desire to help others led him to focus on economic and social development and policy making. After graduation, he decided to pursue his passion of writing and editing. Jeffrey’s mission is to educate and inform the public on addiction issues and help those in need of treatment find the best option for them.
Reviewed by Certified Addiction Professional
A survivor of addiction himself, David Hampton is a Certified Professional Recovery Coach (CPRC) and a member of the National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC).
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