How to Break the Cycle of Enabling

September, 2019

So, You’re Loved One is an Addict or Alcoholic

When You’re Loved One Is an Addict – How to Break the Cycle of Enabling

Many addicts and alcoholics try to hide their addiction and alcoholism from their family, coworkers, and friends. Often, the best manipulation tactics fail, and people see that their loved one is struggling with addiction. If you suspect your loved one is suffering from the disease of addiction, you’ll likely feel powerless, frightened, and lost. Before we discuss what to do, please know that there are safe support groups just for you.

Al-Anon is a twelve-step program designed to help people who are living with or dealing with an individual suffering from alcoholism. Nar-Anon is the family program for those whose loved ones are addicted to drugs. You may feel that your loved one needs help, and you don’t. But addiction trickles down into family life, and parents, siblings, coworkers, and friends commonly feel a sense of desperation as they watch their loved one spiral out of control.

What’s more, many alcoholics or addicts who have reached a bottom will try and manipulate their loved ones to help them keep their addiction going. Plus, fear of seeing harm come to a loved one propels family members to enable an alcoholic or addict. The fear is natural. We’re trained to nurture our loved ones. To retrain your thinking and stop allowing someone to keep their addiction going is not easy, but it is possible with the help of Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, and the treatment center your loved one is in.

What is Enabling and Why We Avoid It

Enabling is doing anything that helps an alcoholic or addict keep their addiction going. Enabling includes giving the addict money, getting them drugs, taking them to get drugs, buying needles, letting them crash on the couch, allowing them to yell, scream and wreak havoc in the household. Enabling is a complicated topic – to learn more about it, please contact Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, or Breakthrough Recovery Outreach to learn how to handle an actively using addict best.

Using addicts become upset and angry when they cannot get what they want. They may become violent or abusive. The unpredictability of what a using addict will say or do makes it difficult not to enabling them. The reason we refuse to enable them, though, is simple. Any activity that we participate in that allows them to continue using blocks them from their bottom. Hitting bottom can prompt addicts to seek treatment and get well. When we enable addicts, we may be preventing them from seeing that the life they are living is not only not working, but is life-threatening.

Exception – When Withdrawal Can Kill an Addict or Alcoholic

There are a few highly addictive substances that should not be stopped without medical intervention. Stopping alcohol or benzodiazepines, like Xanax and Valium, cold turkey can cause life-threatening symptoms. If you loved one, coworker, or friend needs to withdraw from these substances, please seek medical intervention to safely detox. Breakthrough Recovery Outreach has the resources to help patients stop using in a safe environment.

Two Real-Life Experiences with Enabling

I’ve had two experiences with enabling. One is about my intervention and the other from a using addict that I care about who I’ve struggled with enabling.

My Intervention

It took more than one intervention for me to become willing to stop using. I say this because it’s important to know that if your loved one does not respond the first time, over time, their willingness to get help may change.

In 2006, my father and I sat face to face in a room. I was broken in every way – body, mind, and spirit. My father said this to me, “If you get help, I will do everything in my power to help you get your life back. I’ll stop at nothing to help you. If you don’t do this, I will not help you. You’ll be on your own.”

In retrospect, this had to be the hardest thing for my father to say to me. I’m sure he was terrified of what would happen if I didn’t take his offer. Yet, he stood firm, and I HEARD him. All I heard was, “I will stop at nothing to help you.” I weakly replied, “I don’t know if I can,” and he assured me that I could. I didn’t believe myself, but I did believe him.

Thirteen years later, my father has never once broken his promise to me. He paid for my treatment, encouraged me to get a job, taught me how to handle money, told me it wasn’t too late to dream about having a career, and when I’ve struggled emotionally, he has picked me up. Every. Single. Time.

My father did not enable me, but he offered me a wealth of love and promise instead. Ultimately, the hope he offered was all I needed to fight for my life and stay sober. It worked.

My Enabling Behavior

Here’s another example, that didn’t go as well. Recently, a loved one who is actively using contacted me. She asked me for food and promised she was going to go into treatment. I got her the food. She did not go to treatment and a week later asked me for money. I said no, and it was heartbreakingly difficult to do. But, I shouldn’t have given her the food the first time – not because I want her or anyone to go hungry, but because it enabled her to live an addicted lifestyle for one more day. I momentarily relieved her of the desperation that is necessary to precipitate change.

Learning to Stop Enabling a Loved One Suffering from Addiction is a Process

With all the information I have at my disposal about enabling, I still made the mistake of enabling an addict. Love interferes with reason when we love someone and fear for their life. It’s HARD to see someone you love suffering. It’s PAINFUL to say no.

Don’t go this path alone. Please seek out resources and let others guide you if someone you love is struggling with addiction or alcoholism and asking you to support their behavior.

In order to stop enabling someone you love – you need professionals and other family members who have faced your same predicament to guide you.

Breakthrough Recovery Outreach is Here to Help

Breakthrough Recovery Outreach is here to help. If you have a loved one that you’re worried about, contact us at (770) 493-7750. We offer Family Programs that are guided by caring professionals who have the best interest of you and your loved one in mind.