Substance abuse and addiction is a serious problem for many people. The 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that, in the year before the survey, more than 23 million people needed treatment for a substance abuse problem. However, out of these people, only 2.5 million of them received treatment; additionally, 19.5 million of them reported that they saw no need to seek help.
These figures suggest that, not only are drug abuse and addiction serious problems in the US, but also that many people are in denial about the severity of their substance abuse. The reasons behind this denial are complex, but one common reason is enabling, which means that someone implicitly accepts the substance abuse, and allows it to continue with relatively few problems.
Enabling can be extremely dangerous, both for drug user and his loved ones. Since enabling discourages users from addressing their problem with professional help, it can lead to situations that cause physical, mental and psychological harm.
Signs of Enabling
Morteza and Karen Khaleghi list several clear signs that someone is enabling an addict:
- Ignoring the addict’s negative or potentially dangerous behavior – This behavior can involve anything from overlooking problems to denying that a problem even exists
- Difficulty expressing emotions – Enablers are often unsure how to express their feelings, especially if there are negative repercussions for doing so
- Prioritizing the addict’s needs before her own – While it is natural to want to help loved ones, enabling takes helping a step too far, where the addict has her needs taken care of while the enabler neglects her own
- Acting out of fear – Since addiction can cause frightening events, the enabler will do whatever it takes to avoid such situations
- Lying to others to cover the addict’s behavior – An enabler will lie to keep the peace and to present a controlled, calm exterior
- Blaming people or situations other than the addict – To protect the addict from the consequences of drug abuse, the enabler might accuse other people of causing drug abuse
- Resenting the addict – The result of the above behaviors is that the enabler will likely feel angry and hurt. She may act on these feelings by resenting the addict all while continuing to enable the addiction.
If you notice these behaviors in yourself or a loved one, then know that they may enable addiction.
How to Break the Cycle of Enabling
While enabling can be a serious problem for everyone involved with addiction, it is completely possible to break the enabling cycle so the addict can heal in productive, meaningful ways.
Darlene Lancer gives the following suggestions to help someone stop enabling:
- Leave messes as they are:
Leave the addict to clean up the messes she makes while intoxicated
- Weigh your options for short-term and long-term pain:
Will helping the addict one more time cause more pain in the long run?
- Get back autonomy:
When possible, you should not allow the addict to put you in situations which may endanger yourself or others
- Follow through with plans:
Even if the addict refuses to participate in a planned activity, you should go through with it without her
In other words, take action now against enabling behaviors.
How to Learn More about Enabling an Addiction
Enabling an addict can be a difficult habit to break. For the addict to realize the consequences of their behavior, their loved ones must stop enabling their substance abuse. This is sometimes the only way an addict will ever get professional help. If you think you are enabling a loved one’s addiction, or have questions on how to get them started on a new path toward recovery, give us a call at 615-490-9376.