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How to Know If You’re Enabling an Addict

Addiction is a disease that needs fuel to keep burning through a person’s life. This fuel can come in the form of co-occurring disorders, stress, pain, and in many cases, well-meaning enablers. Enabling is a complicated issue, but the simple definition is allowing an addict to continue on with their destructive lifestyle by sheltering them from the consequences of their behavior.

The Difference Between Helping and Enabling

A lot of times those who love an addict end up enabling their behavior because they’re trying to help. The line between helping and enabling can seem a little blurry, but there’s one easy way to tell the difference. Helping is doing something for someone that they are not capable of doing themselves. Enabling is doing something for someone that they are capable of doing themselves, or should be capable of doing. Often times addiction will render an addict incapable of properly caring for themselves, but if you do it for them, you’re enabling them to continue in their addiction.

Enabling Behaviors

If you’ve ever done one or more of the following, chances are you’re enabling an addict:

  • Paid their bills, or loaned them money.
  • Called in sick to work for them when they were too hungover to go in.
  • Lied to others or made excuses to cover for the addict.
  • Bailed them out of jail or paid their legal fees.
  • Avoided conversations about their using to avoid conflict.
  • Blamed yourself, or allowed the addict to blame you for their using or drinking.
  • Drank or used with the addict to try and get closer to them or strengthen the relationship.
  • Given them multiple “one last” chances.
  • Given ultimatums for if they don’t stop, but then not followed through with them.

How to Stop

Once these patterns of enabling have been instilled in a family or other relationship, it can be very hard to stop. Remember that your loved one can’t heal from their addiction until you allow them to feel the consequences of their actions. If they’ve spent all their money on drugs or alcohol and can’t pay their rent, you can’t pay it for them, or they’re sure to have the same problem next month. Step 2 of your plan will be to get help for the addict. They will be more willing to accept this help if they’ve felt the full weight of their addiction through a series of natural consequences. Getting help for yourself is often a key factor as well, as you learn how to support your loved one in a healthy way.