Enabling, put quite simply, is the actions someone takes or doesn’t take that allow or help an alcoholic or addict to continue drinking or using. Often times, with the best intentions through love and caring, we inadvertently strengthen the addiction of a loved one when what we really intended to do was “help them to stop”.
This process usually begins slowly over time and almost always with the intention to help. As untreated alcoholism and drug addiction progresses, so too can our behaviors that are enabling addiction. We find ourselves putting up with more and more outrageous behavior that we never would’ve tolerated years or even months ago.
We begin to compromise our own sense of morals and dignity. Our focus becomes more and more on the addicted one and we begin to lose ourselves in the process. Emotionally, spiritually, mentally and financially we end up drained.
At later stages, the addict’s behavior can even begin to affect us physically after the anxiety and stress of a hundred sleepless nights begin to add up. In the end it is usually only anger, frustration and hopelessness that are left. Sometimes we become so frustrated we leave, but some of us hang on to the bitter end, always asking him and ourselves, “Just why won’t he get help?”
Why They Won’t Get Help If Others Are Enabling?
The answer is pretty simple, because right now his drug and alcohol use is emotionally more comfortable than seeking treatment. With all the negative consequences that we see, it may not appear so comfortable to us, but it’s the truth.
Part of the reason that it is more comfortable for him is that he has trained us through emotional manipulation to behave in a certain way so that we make his addiction more emotionally comfortable. He has no job because the family has been manipulated to loan him money, he has no apartment because the family lets him stay with them “just until he gets on his feet”.
His bills are paid because we lend him the money, he is not in jail because the family has bailed him out, he drives drunk because no one confronts him, and his grandparents do not know because the family keeps it a secret.
Of course these are extreme examples but enabling even occurs towards those who haven’t quite bottomed out and are still highly functional in society.
For us to more greatly understand our role in the lives of an addicted one, it is best if we break down the basic types of enabling behaviors and look back into our past and see if we have exhibited any of these behaviors at any time. Do not worry if you have done or currently possess any of these enabling characteristics. As we like to say, the more enabling factors that are currently present, the better.
We are going to change them. As long as all the factors around an addict remain the same he will continue to behave as he always has. If we change our behaviors then so must he in response. We need the addict to feel the negative consequences of their lifestyle choice, perhaps for the first time in his life.
Read more: Intervention 101
More Resources about Enabling
Understanding Enabling Video: “Understanding Enabling” presented by our founder, David Lee, is to help families to understand Enabling in a different way then they have had it explained before. A part of our Intervention Video Response Series, which answers questions emailed in from families in need of help, this particular response is to help a family that has one family member that is enabling and won’t stop.
The Four Emotions Used to Train People to Enable: This Intervention Services Article, written in several different pieces as a series, can help you to understand the complex dynamics that spring up when an addition is being formed.