How do I stop enabling an addict?

How do I stop enabling an addict?

This is an all to a familiar story, that I hear so often when people contact me.

Your loved one has been struggling with an addiction for sometime.

You have tried to help them so many times and now you are at your wits end.

You have given money, food, clothes, a bed for the night. you have talked, begged, pleaded and argued for them to change but nothing you do or say seems to get through to them.

With nowhere left to turn I'm sure at times you have even paid for their alcohol or other substances.

When you have done this I'm sure you know that you have been enabling, but sometimes you just don't want the arguments or the constant hounding for money.

This doesn't stop the sleepless nights or constant worry and so the cycle goes on and it feels as though you are just going around and around the same old carousel day in and day out.

You feel stuck and as though their addiction is bleeding you dry, resentment begins to set in and you feel drained.

What more can you do?

How can you provide the right support without becoming an enabler?

And so, you continue with the cycle of giving and giving and giving- all while loathing and resenting the process you feel stuck in. But where do you go from here?

How do you provide love and support without enabling?

Well in order to find the answer let's first look at what is enabling?

There is a very fine line between enabling and support, so you may even be enabling someone without even realising it.

It is very important that you distinguish whether you are enabling or supporting and this can be quite a challenge as its more complicated than you may think.

When we are enabling we are preventing someone from the truth or consequences of their actions.

Enabling can also mean that you are protecting, down playing or hiding their behaviour or how severe their behaviour has become.

Are you:

  • Being secretive about their behaviour
  • Bailing them our financially
  • Bailing them out legally
  • Blaming other people for the addiction or their behaviour
  • Do you make idle threats to the addict but never follow through?
  • are you in denial of their problem or do you ignore their behaviour?
  • Do you put their needs above other family members, including your own?

I know you love and care for them and this may cause you to be willing to do what you feel you can to make things better.

But accountability is essential and your love alone is not a cure.

If the addict wants change they have to be accountable for their actions.

Enabling through love is one thing, but you may enable the addict through fear as well. 

Fear that something bad may happen to the addict or to you as a result of not enabling them.

As someone who struggled with addiction for most of their life I know how manipulative someone can be in the pursuit of feeding their habit.

There is a very good possibility that they will take advantage of your generosity, they may lie, steal and even threaten to continue and satisfy their habit.

This is so unfair on the mother who just wants to see their child safe and the partner who just wants the relationship they were hoping for.

Believing that the pain the addict is experiencing will further the problem the loved one easily falls into the trap of enabling through the manipulative nature that has been learnt over time by the addict.

So how can you stop enabling?

Enabling can become a pattern of behaviour similar to that of the addiction itself.

You have probably sacrificed your own mental health and physical well being in the pursuit of helping your loved one.

This is a one way street however and I am sure you have been left feeling drained, resentful and possibly even isolated.

But what can you do?

Knowledge is power

Start learning about their addiction, the more you can understand the greater support you will be able to offer.

There are many untrue statements and beliefs regarding addiction and recovery and so it is important to educate yourself correctly.

Here are some non helpful, untrue beliefs:

  • All you need is will power
  • You have to hit rock bottom before you will change
  • The only way is to just stop

These are three untrue statements that people like to bat around that have never experienced addiction. Educate yourself from trusted sources.

Seek out support for you

You can find peer support through organisations such as Alanon and Adfam which also provides resources and information for family members and loved ones of struggling addicts.

Open the lines of communication

If you haven't already expressed to your loved one your concerns or how you are feeling it is important that you do so.

I understand this may be a difficult conversation for you to have and will be quite challenging.

Find a neutral time, when they are not intoxicated or under the influence.

Be firm and honest without pointing the finger or lecturing and without judgement or conflict.

Your emotions are valid and so please do not hide how you are feeling or try to minimise them.

Stop making excuses for their behaviour or trying to cover it up.

You care and so you worry about the impact the consequences of their actions is going to have on them.

This worry can at times lead you into a state of denial or one where you find your making excuses for their behaviour.

This needs to stop, understand that some consequences could in fact be the thing that instigates change for them. this is why accountability is so important.

If you are covering for them all the time, then where will they get the motivation to stop?

Put in place financial boundaries

Funding someone else's habit will put a huge strain on your finances.

You have every right to set limits on how much of your personal finances you are willing to fork out.

Rather than giving an addict money but you still want to be there for them you could give them food, maybe help them out with their electric or travel costs or other living expenses with a rule that you will not give them the money.

But will purchase these yourself.

Or similar, there's no right or wrong here but you have every right to set boundaries, what is key is that you stick to them. do not allow the lines to become blurred.

This is tough I know but if you let the boundaries down once the odds are you will be hounded time and time again.

What if your loved one does not think they have a problem?

If this is the case you may want to consider setting up an intervention. During which you can express how your feeling and set in place your boundaries.

For your intervention to succeed you will need to share what changes you expect and what the consequences will be if your loved one does not accept help.

This is serious business and needs to be treated as such. If you cannot stick to your boundaries then they become worthless. 

Please only decide to set up an intervention when you feel you are ready to cope with the outcome.

One last thing

If you feel you have been enabling your loved one I just want you to know you are not a bad person and you are not alone.

Please look into organisations such as Adfam or Alanon.

Contact your local drug and alcohol services also to see what support their is available to you in your area.