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How to Stop Enabling

To enable an addict means to make it easy for them to continue in their addiction. When someone enables an addict, they take away the consequences of the addict’s behavior, allowing the person to continue using without incentive to stop. Enabling can be very detrimental, not only to the addict, but to the enabler as well.

Are You an Enabler?

One of the first questions a family member or close friend of an addict needs to ask themselves is, “Am I an enabler?” Enabling is very common because it is hard to watch someone we care about suffer and run their lives into the ground. Someone who is losing control to an addiction will start to slip, and might become irresponsible with their job, miss important appointments, and spend money carelessly. In order to protect the person, we naturally want to take on the responsibility, to cover for the person, and to help take away the natural consequences of their actions. Enabling usually starts off as genuine concern for the person and a well-intentioned attempt to save them from themselves.

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Darlene Lancer, warns of the danger that enabling can pose for the enabler, or the codependent in the relationship. “Enabling has implications for all codependents, because they generally sacrifice themselves to accommodate others’ needs, solve others’ problems, and assume more than their share of responsibility at work and in relationships.”

But experts warn that this only makes the problem worse, and helps the addict put off getting the help they truly need. If the addict does not have to worry that they miss family gatherings, that the job and all the money are gone, or that they got so wasted that they lost consciousness the night before, they will not see a need to get treatment. However, if the person wakes up and comes to his senses after a night of drugs or drinking and sees all the things he messed up, he might want to do all he can to keep that from happening again.

Stop Enabling

Putting an end to enabling is difficult, and takes hard work and a strong determination to do so. Some tips on how to stop enabling include:

  • Do not do anything for the addict that they can do for themselves
  • Stop lying and covering up for the addict
  • Do not give money to the addict
  • Do not take on extra responsibilities for the addict
  • Set boundaries, and keep them

Families of addicts often need professional help just to get past the issue of enabling. Just as the addiction took time to develop to a certain point, so the act of enabling can develop slowly over time. Sometimes the enabler actually hinders the recovery process because of the unhealthy relationship they have become accustomed to.

Lancer goes on to give this advice, “Stopping enabling isn’t easy. Nor is it for the faint of heart. Aside from likely pushback and possible retaliation, you may also fear the consequences of doing nothing. You may have to weigh the consequences of experiencing short-term pain vs. long-term misery, which postpones the addict’s reckoning with his or her own behavior. It requires great faith and courage not to enable without knowing the outcome.”

When a person stops enabling, it does not mean that the addiction will automatically go away. In fact, many addicts will continue to live with their disease for the rest of their lives. In these cases, it is still important for the family and loved ones to get help for themselves, so that they can live a happy, healthy life, independent of another person’s actions.

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