Helping the people you love is human nature. Every loving parent wants to see their child succeed as they grow up. People in committed relationships want the best for their partners. When drug or alcohol addiction enters the picture, though, the line between loving and enabling blurs.
It’s hard to know when actions that are supposed to be helpful start doing more harm than good. Watching someone you love spiral down is a gut-wrenching experience. Most people want to do whatever they can to control the situation and keep their loved one from hitting rock bottom.
Parents and partners often try to do all they can to hold their loved one together. As their substance abuse progresses, though, the strain becomes greater. Actions performed out of love may start to cross over the line and start enabling behaviors to continue that are harmful in the long-run.
Do you have a loved one struggling to control their drug or alcohol use? It’s terrifying to watch their drinking or drug use get worse as time goes on. You’ve probably done everything in your power to help them overcome their problem but still found yourself at a loss. How do you know when love turns into enabling?
The Path to Enabling
Every parent constructs an ideal in their mind when their child is born. They dream of raising a brilliant student, a star athlete, a gifted artist. Imagined scenarios unfold filled with family gatherings on holidays and important events decades from now. They want to watch this child they love so much experience the world as they grow.
Committed partners share a similar experience. People in relationships share goals, create plans, and build ideas for the life they plan to share together. These individuals form a loving bond that they hope will never break. There are visions of children, of traveling and vacations, of possible career paths over time.
One thing these plans never include is struggles with alcohol or substance use. No one wants to see the people they love battle with the cycle of addiction or alcoholism. Unfortunately, 7.4% of people have an alcohol or substance use disorder in the U.S., making this a reality for millions of people throughout the United States.
Alcohol and substance use disorders are progressive conditions. They start slowly and subtly with small behavioral changes. As parents or partners notice these changes in their loved ones, they start doing things to help eliminate the issue. They don’t want to see alcohol and drugs consume the person they love.
As their drinking or drug use progresses, though, parents and partners start to realize there’s little they can do to limit the problem as a whole. Instead, they start doing what they can to keep their loved one from facing the ever-increasing consequences of their problem.
Their love for the person causes feelings of fear and their attempts to help become attempts to control the situation. Whether it’s a parent and a child or a romantic partner, the dynamics of the relationship start shifting. Unhealthy behaviors start forming and their formerly loving actions transform into enabling actions.
The Enabler vs. The Enabled
The enabler is the person whose actions keep the enabled from facing the consequences of their actions. Oftentimes the enabler is the parent or partner, but siblings, friends, or adult children can be enablers, too. Enablers do all they can to take responsibility for their loved one and manage what they are able to.
The enabled person’s choices create an incredible sense of anxiety. Enablers, seeing the eventual outcome of their loved one’s behavior, start adapting their own behavior to limit the disastrous outcomes. As they enable, they create a power imbalance in the relationship. This drives a divide between the two which causes stress, frustration, and resentment.
Codependency is a common term used to define the relationship between enablers and their loved ones. If your loved one has an alcohol or drug problem you’re probably already familiar with it. It describes the common traits and behavior patterns seen in those who enable the behavior of someone with addiction or alcoholism.
Enablers feel powerless over their loved one’s choices. They try to limit the consequences their loved one faces thinking it’ll eventually encourage them to quit alcohol and drugs for good. In reality, enabling keeps the problem going and tends to make it worse over time.
Identifying Enabling Behavior
The shift from love into enabling usually happens slowly which makes it difficult to detect until it’s too late. It usually starts with things like making excuses for your loved one or letting them borrow money. The actions become greater and more involved over time as you adapt to their growing problem.
Some examples of enabling behavior include:
- Avoiding talking to your loved one about their drinking or drug use so they don’t get frustrated and go on a bigger binge
- Allowing your loved one to live with you or refusing to kick them out to keep them from ending up homeless
- Supporting your loved one financially because they wouldn’t be able to pay their bills on their own
- Paying for lawyers, fines, or court fees so your loved one doesn’t have to go to jail
- Covering or making excuses for your loved one to limit their consequences
You might think that enabling behavior helps because they’re at least safe while their problem progresses. The truth is you’re doing them more harm than good by protecting them from the consequences of their actions.
Learning to Overcome Enabling
You want to do all you can to protect them from harm but eventually, you have to step back if you want them to stop. When you enable your loved one, you get in the way of their hitting rock bottom. They’ll never reach the point where they need to ask for help if you constantly eliminate their need for it.
You must learn to overcome your enabling if you want your loved one to get better. You’re delaying their ability to get well when you continue to clean up the messes they leave behind. Once they realize there’s no one taking care of their problems, they’ll eventually see that they need to make some changes.
Taking your hands off the situation probably feels counterintuitive. It’s painful to come to the realization that you’re hurting your loved one when your love turns into enabling. They’ll likely put up a fight when you finally decide to take a step back. Sticking to your decision is crucial if you want them to get well.
Setting a boundary with your loved one doesn’t mean you don’t care about them. You can still support them without enabling their behavior. It’s more loving to step back from the situation than it is to continue enabling them. Overcoming enabling behavior is not easy, though, and you’ll likely need your own support during the process.
When your loved one is ready to quit, you can point them in the direction of a specialized addiction treatment facility. You can’t be the one who helps them get clean and sober. They need to seek help from a program that works with people struggling with addiction, alcoholism, and co-occurring disorders.
The best thing you can do is connect them with the proper support they need. Clearview Treatment Programs understand the intricacies of addiction and alcoholism. Our programs help your loved one build the strong foundation necessary for their long-term recovery. Reach out today to learn more and let us know how we can help you and your loved one today!