What is Enabling?
What is Enabling?
Enabling may sound like a very simple problem, but in reality, it’s a very complex facet of the addiction. Addiction as a disease has a widespread impact on every person within the family. There are many instances where a parent, spouse, or even children of an addict go out of their way to try and help in the only ways that they know how.
This can translate into protecting the addict out of a sense of duty, or a need to keep the peace within the household. Sometimes, a person feels responsible for the addict’s behavior; leading to a sense of lingering guilt. All of these things can contribute to the behaviors that make someone an enabler.
An enabler is a person who unintentionally or intentionally protects and fosters addictive behaviors. An enabler will:
- Make excuses for the addict.
- Lie to family, friends, law enforcement, and even employers to protect the addict.
- Stops the addict from experiencing and repercussions or consequences for their substance abuse.
- Allows the addict to use drugs at or stay in their home without any stipulations.
- Financially and emotionally supports addictive behaviors.
- Supports the addict by providing them with legal counsel, bail money, and other emergency needs.
- Denies the addiction or blames other people for the addict’s behavior.
- Gives the addict what they want to avoid confrontation.
- Provides the addict with undeserved opportunities for work, social connections, and other resources that they can’t properly utilize when actively using drugs and alcohol.
- Defends the addict’s behaviors and insulates them from others who could help.
An enabler will resist change for any number of reasons. They may blame themselves for the person’s behaviors, or they will continue to put up with substance abuse just to prevent a confrontation.
This can continue indefinitely. An enabler needs to accept that they have a problem, too, before they’re able to start changing how they react to the addict. This is where an intervention can change the trajectory of the entire disease for everyone involved.
What Does an Enabler Look Like?
Learning that someone is an enabler is the first step towards changing their behaviors for the better. It can be hard to come to terms with someone’s own problems and owning them can be nearly impossible for those who aren’t ready. An article in Psychology Today points to the addictive nature of addiction itself. Many enablers become “addicted” to the way of life, and they’re terrified of change.
Human beings can get used to anything—including bad or damaging situations. A person who’s committed to enabling addictive behaviors will build an entire lifestyle around defending another person who they care about. In reality, they’ll be defending the disease, and not the person. If someone believes that they might be an enabler, applying these questions can help:
- Are they afraid of hurting the addict’s feelings?
- Do they ever lie to cover for the addict?
- Do they feel guilty about confronting them?
- Are they afraid that they’ll disrupt the peace if they don’t do what addicts ask?
- Are they willing to admit that the person is an addict?
- Do they prevent them from being held accountable?
- Do they feel like they’ll be letting the addict down?
- Do they think that they can fix them without professional help?
These are just a few of the indicators that can help everyone to better understand why they’re reacting to an addict in a way that enables their behavior.
What Does Enabling Do to the Family?
When a person chooses to participate in an intervention, they’ll probably be asked about their relationship with the addict by the interventionist or treatment professional. They can help them to better understand how their actions are actually harming the person that they’re trying to protect if they’re enabling the addiction.
When one family member protects the substance abuser, they divide the family even further. Enabling almost always comes from a place of love. It’s simply misdirected and ultimately has the opposite effect than intended.
Enabling stops the addict from getting the help they need; which is resented by family members who can see the behaviors as a hindrance instead of a help. This is just another thing that the entire family will have to recover from when the addict finally gets the treatment that they need.
The Impact of Enabling on Addiction
A person who’s protecting the addiction will prolong the disease. The longer that they protect the addict’s self-destructive behaviors, the longer it will take for the addict to finally realize that they need professional help. The purpose of an intervention is to help the addict to see the truth about their disease.
During the intervention, enabling will put up roadblocks and stop a lot of the progress that the professional interventionist could make otherwise. This is why it’s so important that everyone involved get help before they can proceed.
Identifying Enabling through an Intervention
A trained interventionist will spend time with each person who’s close to the addict prior to the actual intervention. This helps them to assess the situation and to understand who might sabotage the process. A person who’s committed to enabling can prevent the intervention from being successful. They may also oppose the process and offer the addict an alternative to actual treatment.
If this happens, the intervention can be completely offset. The addict will see it as a choice between a rehab facility and a person who’s willing to allow them to keep using and living the life that they’re accustomed to. That’s an easy decision when someone is struggling with substance abuse, and most addicts won’t make the right one.
For an intervention to work, everyone needs to be on the same page. This means withdrawing support from the addict for anything other than their agreement to seek treatment.