When you love an addict – whether it is your spouse, family member or friend – it’s only natural to want to help. But how do you draw the line between supporting and enabling?
Loving an addict, whether a spouse, family member or friend, is an unquestionably difficult situation to be in. Addiction does not just affect addicts, but also greatly affects their friends, families and partners.
This can result in a multitude of feelings – hurt, sadness, despair, anger – but also an overwhelming desire to help. It may feel impossible to sit back and watch them tumble down the spiral of addiction, but you must be careful. There is a fine line between helping an addicted loved one and enabling them to continue using, which in turn worsens their addiction and puts them at more serious risk.
What is Enabling?
Enabling an addict is the process of helping and supporting them to such an extent that they do not have to deal with the consequences of their actions. Therefore, an enabler is someone close to the addict who thinks that they are helping but are in fact assisting their loved one in furthering their drug or alcohol addiction problems.
For example, an addict will go to great lengths to ensure that they are getting their substance of choice, and in doing so may lie or steal, forget to pay bills or break agreements with people close to them. An enabler may be a family member, friend, spouse or lover who cares deeply about this person. As a result, they may inadvertently cover up for the lying and stealing, pay the bills and apologise to people on behalf of the addict. All of these things are done out of love, but they are actually detrimental to the addict. These actions ultimately allow your loved one to go deeper into their addiction because they never have to face the consequences of their actions.
Some addicts will only admit their problems and seek professional treatment once they have truly reached rock bottom. By paying their bills and covering for them, the enabler is ensuring that the addict does not reach this point, and are therefore discouraging or prolonging the addict from seeking professional addiction recovery treatment.
Sometimes loving an addict calls for a little tough love.
Using Tough Love to Combat Addiction
In order to help your loved one come to grips with their situation and get help, you must ensure that your well-intended efforts are not, in fact, enabling. Consider the following:
Do not be afraid of the outcome.
You must stop fearing what may happen to your loved one if you stop helping them. Though it is difficult to watch, it is important that they deal with the consequences of their actions. Otherwise, they may never admit that they have a problem.
Set rules and boundaries.
Loving an addict without enabling them means that you have to set clear boundaries and rules. Let them know what will happen if they come home intoxicated again (whether you kick them out, or implement some other type of punishment) and then stick to implementing the consequence when it happens. Otherwise, your rules and boundaries will never stick.
Admit to the reality of the situation.
Living in a fantasy world is often more appealing than dealing with the reality of your loved one’s addiction problems, but by ignoring the problem, you are doing more damage. While it may seem easiest to turn a blind eye, it is important to be upfront with them, and let them know that you are aware of what is going on. The more often the addict has to face reality, the more likely they are to come to terms with the fact that they have a problem with addiction.
Understand that you cannot ‘fix’ them.
Many enablers believe that they can somehow ‘fix’ their loved one, but the reality is that you only have control over yourself. The addict is the only one responsible for their actions. You can, however, guide them towards treatment. This can happen by simply talking to the person you are concerned about, or in more serious cases, organising an intervention.
Remember: there is a difference between self-care and selfishness.
People who love addicts often put themselves second. If you are one of these people then it is important that you learn to distinguish between self-care and selfishness. Self-care simply means that you are looking after your own health and wellbeing – it does not mean that you are being selfish. If you fail to prioritise your own mental and physical health while focusing on someone else, your wellbeing will begin to suffer.
‘Tough love’ does not mean ‘no love’.
One of the most important things to remember is that tough love does not mean you are washing your hands of your loved one. You should not turn your back on them or leave them out to dry, but painful as it may be, you do need to give them some space to realise the severity of their own actions.
Addiction and Relationships: Problems for the Spouse
Estimates suggest that one in three people have a close family member who abuses or has an addiction to alcohol. Oftentimes, these family members are also someone’s husband, wife, boyfriend or girlfriend, and in these cases it may seem harder to just ‘let them figure it out’ because your lives are inextricably intertwined – especially if there are kids involved.
If kids are involved, it is important to assess the risk of having them live in the same house as an alcoholic or addict. If your spouse is aggressive, abusive (verbally or physically) or in any way a danger to your children it is important to remove yourself and your children from the situation – either by going to stay with friends or family, or asking your spouse to do so instead. Besides the trauma that children can experience being around a parent that is in the depths of addiction, it is common for children of alcoholics and addicts to grow up with distinct characteristics that are not always conducive to a healthy and happy life, and to become addicts themselves as they grow older.
Addiction is a Family Disease
Addiction is often referred to as a ‘family disease’ because it deeply affects each member of the family in various ways. A family treatment programme is advised during recovery, or even attending support groups such as Al-Anon in your area can make a big difference.
Getting Your Addicted Loved One the Help They Need
The reality is that loving an addict is one of the most painful relationships you can go through. Watching someone you love hurt themselves so intensely is hard. However, ensuring that you are not enabling your loved one could mean the difference between life and death.
Addiction is a chronic disease, which means it will only get worse over time if left untreated. If you are unsure how to successfully help your addicted loved one, contact us today to learn how we can help.