An “enabler” is a person who encourages or allows self-destructive behaviour in another. That means any habit that’s detrimental to the person and usually those around them too.
It’s most often used around someone addicted to alcohol or drugs. By enabling the addict it means the addiction is more likely to continue.
For instance, it’s when an alcoholic’s partner does things for the alcoholic they could do for themselves if they were not drinking so much. That is such as repairing something they damaged in a drunken state.
Many people would see this as just being helpful. But there’s a big difference.
What does enabling someone mean?
Helping is doing something the addict could not do for themselves. Enabling means you do something they could do themselves if their addiction wasn’t in the way.
Common traits of enablers are:
- Being in denial about the other person’s addiction.
- Avoiding confrontation or conflict to maintain the peace.
- Normally keeping emotions inside.
- Sometimes joining in with the addiction.
- Thinking the addiction will just magically disappear one day.
- Taking over the addict’s responsibilities.
- Treating the addict like they would a child.
- Attempting to control the addict by such as making them feel ashamed.
- Coming to the rescue of, making excuses for and/or telling lies to protect the addict.
- Financially supporting the addict.
It’s very hard not to do everything you can for someone who’s clearly struggling. But an addict needs to realize that their behaviour has consequences.
They never will if someone else is always mopping up their mess. That means they will be much less likely to seek the help they desperately need.
Stopping being an enabler can be extremely difficult. An alcoholic’s partner may, for instance, fear the family income will be lost if the alcoholic loses their job. Or that the alcoholic will have a terrible accident or end up taking their life.
It’s such a recognized problem that in 1951 Al-Anon was formed. It’s an organization that helps anyone who is worried about someone with a drinking problem.
One of its strongest suggestions is not to cover for a problematic situation that an alcoholic’s behaviour causes. That’s described as “putting pillows under them”. This means the heavy drinker will never feel any of the pain caused by their actions.
How to stop enabling an addict
While we cannot change other people, we can always change our attitude, behaviour and reactions towards them. We need to learn the difference between enabling and helping.
It’s important to remember you can choose not to accept or tolerate certain behaviour. You can “detach with love”.
This means you are letting go of solving the addicted person’s addiction and all its difficulties. But you still love that person.
Make sure not to:
- Make excuses for them. Even if it means they might lose their job, relationship or home. Those consequences could be the wake-up call they need to seek help.
- Give them money or pay their bills.
- Tell them off or criticize. Often an addict thinks if they can just get through that or give an insincere apology that they have got away with it.
- Take over their duties and responsibilities.
- Intervene in any of their legal consequences.
- Take part in their addiction. Addicts form a relationship with whatever it is they’re addicted to – and it often becomes their number one relationship. Anyone close to them can feel pushed away. So in an attempt to win them back, they think they will become more popular again if they get involved with the addiction.
- Live in denial. If the person in your life is an addict they have a progressive illness.
- Let them try to make you believe you are the reason for their addiction.
- Accept unacceptable behaviour. Cleary this includes abuse in any way.
- Expect an immediate change. Recovery from addiction takes time. If they do try to quit, respect their privacy in this matter. If they slip back, do not be angry with them.
Make sure to:
- Give full support for any efforts at quitting or getting into recovery.
- Set boundaries. Then stick to them. Tell the addict the boundaries are for you. Deliver your boundaries calmly and not as an angry threat.
- Let the addict deal with any consequences of their addiction.
- Encourage them to live healthily such as by exercising and eating well. Also to avoid stress as this can worsen addictive behaviour.
- Build trust with them. Always be honest. Nagging, belittling or lecturing will undermine any trust.
- Choose your words wisely. Always try to speak from the heart. Realize if you are not an addict that you will find it almost impossible to fully understand. Saying such as “you just have weak willpower” is not only incorrect, it will not help in any way.
Everything needs to be assessed as it arises. You cannot say such as that you will never give the addicted person a lift anywhere. For instance, if they ask for a lift to a 12 Steps meeting you would be helping if you took them. But giving them a lift to somewhere they could visit a bar would make you an enabler.
Many addicts become skilled manipulators and regularly deceive to keep their addiction going. This could be such as saying they need money for food when it’s really for a drink.
Many people in a relationship with an addict discover they are a co-dependent person.
A co-dependent is someone characterized by excessive psychological or emotional reliance on a partner, usually one who requires support for an illness or addiction. Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA) is a group that helps co-dependent people.
Many times when an addict’s enabling system is removed, it causes them to seek help. But it’s not guaranteed. This is often very difficult to accept.
We are experienced in all aspects of addiction. Get in touch today to find out how we can help you or someone you care about.