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Are You Enabling?

It can be very hard to live with an addict, and in addition to your concern for that person, you often end up making up for their deficiencies through superhuman efforts of your own. The money gets spent on beer, so you have to get a second job, the drivers license is revoked, so you become a chauffeur, He's passed out in the lawn, so you 're up in the middle of the night dragging him into bed…if only so the neighbors don’t see.

It's far too easy to enable the behaviors of an alcoholic or drug addict, but one of the most caring things that family can do for an alcoholic is to stop enabling, have the consequences of their intoxicated behaviors fall onto their own shoulders, and see if this alone may not just be enough to get the addict to seek help.

Enabling refers to any behavior on your part that makes it easier for the addict to continue to abuse. If your husband is too hungover to get to work and you call in sick for him, then you have enabled his drinking and he is not left to face the consequences of his actions. If your wife is arrested for drunk driving, and you rush down to bail her out of jail, you again are not allowing her to face the consequences of her own behavior, and are making it easier for her to continue with drinking.

We all enable because we care, and out a desire to protect a loved one with a substance abuse problem, but sometimes tough love is the best love, and it’s the only kind of love that has any chance of getting the abuser to change his or her behavior.

 Here are some tips on how to stop enabling:

  • Don't lend money.
  • Don't make excuses for the addict or for their behavior…to anyone, not even yourself.
  • Don't compensate for an addict's failings with your own superhuman efforts, i.e. His car payments are his responsibility.
  • Set some limits for your actions and behaviors, be clear as to those limits, and stay firm when he or she tries to change your behaviors. (When she is drunk, she doesn't get to see the kids…no exceptions).
  • Do not fight with the addict over their behaviors.

These are all very hard things to do, and it goes against our impulses to "do nothing" when our heart is screaming at us to "do something!"; but by doing nothing we are in fact doing as much as we possibly can, and this is the only way we have any power of influence over the alcoholic or drug abuser.

More information and strategies against enabling can be had at any family addiction peer support organization, or through the services of a professional addictions councilor.

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