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Enabling Behavior and How to Stop It

When a loved one is struggling with substance use disorder, it can be hard to find the best way to help them without hurting them. Sometimes the way people intend to aid others unknowingly ends up making their situation worse. In the addiction and mental health fields, that kind of behavior is deemed as “enabling,” and stopping the cycle of enabling hurtful actions can be difficult but also incredibly important for treatment and recovery.

What is Enabling?

Substance use disorder can push people to act in ways they would never have imagined prior to drug use, having a negative effect on their brain. Addiction prioritizes drug use above all else, often causing people to mistreat their loved ones, lie, cheat, and even steal. Anyone in this person’s life who helps them avoid the consequences of these negative behaviors financially, physically, emotionally, or otherwise, is enabling them to further act in these ways.

Recognizing Enabling

Enablers are often in denial of how much a person’s drug use has negatively affected their physical and mental health. They often think that if they can just help the person they love one last time, it might be the last time they will have to deal with cleaning up after a drug-related situation. Sadly, there is always a “next time” in these cases because the person coping with their addiction never gets the chance to actualize how harmful their drug use has become. In essence, their enabler is shielding them from the very kinds of outcomes that may lead them to seek treatment and recovery services.

Enabling also fosters an unbalanced relationship between the caretaker and the person who is always doing the “taking,” often creating a buildup of anger and resentment. The enabler of a family unit or relationship will usually feel that they are doing the most suffering, trying to help, although ineffectively. This can quickly deteriorate one’s mental health and eventually, the bond and relationship they have with the person grappling with their addiction.

Stopping Enabling

Perspective is crucial in ceasing enabling behavior. Realizing that short-term solutions for helping someone with addiction will usually only do more harm, and keeping long-term goals of treatment and recovery as a priority can help overcome bouts of guilt. Change takes time, especially when altering behavior in an intrapersonal relationship, but allowing the person to see and experience the consequences of their drug use by not coming to their rescue is always the first and hardest step. Taking away a financial and emotional safety net is also an essential part of the process. Enablers who wish to change should also look to protect themselves and other members of their family by agreeing to hold each other accountable, setting boundaries, attending therapy, as well as discussing a possible intervention or other steps that can be taken to help the person struggling to get the help they need through local recovery services.

Because addiction is a disease, the behavioral aspects that come with it can be incredibly challenging to handle when dealing with a family member, close friend, or significant other. Learning the nuanced ways to identify and stop enabling behavior can help all parties involved hold themselves to a common goal of getting the person who needs help into treatment and healing as a whole. We are here to help you deal with substance use disorder, contact us today for more information.


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