It’s hard to watch someone you love live with an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Addiction often creates chaos not only in the life of the person who is addicted, but also in the lives of everyone around him or her. It can be a confusing and difficult time for friends and family, full of intense and contradictory emotions. If you have a family member who is addicted to drugs or alcohol, you may have feelings ranging from fear, anger, and resentment, to guilt, shame, and sadness. But even so, you love your family member and want to help him or her.
It’s easy to see that addiction can cause you to question your role in your loved one’s life. All too often, there are family members who fall into the role of enabling the person who is addicted. It’s difficult not to. You obviously don’t want to enable your loved one’s addiction, but you may not know what else to do.
The following are some examples of enabling behavior. If you see yourself in these descriptions, consider seeking help for yourself as a loved one of an addict, even if your addicted family member won’t seek help for him or herself.
1. Perpetuating Denial
It’s normal to feel denial regarding your loved one’s substance abuse. However, when that feeling continues over a period, it can lead you to be deeply enabling. Acting as if there isn’t a problem will only make it worse for you and your loved one.
Some of the ways you may be perpetuating denial are:
- Blaming yourself in some way for your loved one’s addiction or accepting blame that is placed on you by someone else.
- Ignoring or shutting out friends or family who express concern about your loved one’s drug or alcohol use.
- Ignoring the signs that your loved one is using or drinking and how it is negatively affecting the person’s life.
- Lying to yourself about your own feelings or suppressing your emotions regarding your loved one and his or her behavior.
- Believing your loved one when he or she insists that the addiction isn’t a big deal, or when your loved one says he or she can beat the addiction alone.
When you become aware that you are in denial about these or other things related to your substance abuse, it can be a great help to getting the individual to seek treatment faster, as well as helping you to take better care of yourself.
2. Covering Up or Making Excuses for Your Loved One
There can be many reasons that you cover up or make excuses for your loved one who is addicted to drugs or alcohol. It may be that you are simply frustrated or even embarrassed. However, it also may be because codependency exists in your relationship. Some examples of this include:
- Covering up for the addicted person so that he or she doesn’t get into trouble at work, school or with law enforcement.
- Calling in sick for your loved one when he or she is hungover, drunk, high, or sick from drug or alcohol use.
- Making excuses for why your loved one is using or drinking, like he or she is under a lot of stress, or he or she is having a hard time at work or school.
- Covering up for your loved one’s behavior from other people or family members in an attempt to prevent conflict or arguments.
Making excuses for a loved one with substance abuse problems takes a lot of energy; it can wear you out physically and emotionally. When you come to understand that doing so is only perpetuating your loved one’s use, it will be easier for you to allow your addicted loved one to suffer the consequences of his or her own actions.
3. Taking Over Your Loved One’s Responsibilities
It’s no surprise that when addiction strikes, the person who is using or drinking begins to neglect daily responsibilities like taking care of daily chores, performing well at work and nurturing relationships with parents or children. If you find that you are picking up the slack for your loved one in those areas, you may be enabling his or her addiction. Doing things like working extra hours to make up for your loved one’s unemployment or taking over relational responsibilities with his or her parents or children, are ways that some people enable their loved one.
4. Helping Your Loved One Financially
It’s understandable that you want to help your loved one when he or she needs it. However, financially helping an addicted loved one may enable him or her to continue their addiction. If you provide your addicted loved one with money for bills, rent, or food, out of your concern for him or her, you may be providing your loved one with the resources for buying more drugs.
Perhaps a better use of your financial support would be contributing to the costs of treatment for your loved one, should he or she decide to seek it.
5. Drinking or Using with Your Loved One
Even though you may not have a substance abuse problem, it’s just not a good idea to drink or use, even substances that are legal, like alcohol or marijuana in some places, with your loved one who is struggling with addiction. While you may have seemingly valid reasons for doing it – because you’re tired of conflict or at least you will know how much your loved one is using or drinking – it can be very harmful for the addicted person.
Stop the Cycle of Enabling
If you see yourself in any of the above behaviors, you may be enabling your loved one’s addiction, but fortunately, you can break that cycle. Encourage your loved one to seek drug addiction treatment, but even if he or she refuses, find some help for yourself. There are support groups for family members of people with drug or alcohol problems that can help you cope with your situation.
If you need help with treatment for your family member, contact us at Life of Purpose. Part of our program includes helping the family members of our clients so that we can offer you support and guidance as your family recovers.
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