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July 24, 2022

How to Stop Enabling An Addict and Set Boundaries

It isn’t easy to live with someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol. You want to help and support them because that’s what family members and friends do. But all your well-meaning love and support can actually become harmful when someone is struggling with addiction.

Financial support can turn into money used to purchase more drugs and alcohol. Bailing a loved one out of jail can prevent them from experiencing the consequences of their behavior. Telling other people that your loved one is “sick” when they’re really hungover can help them cover up their actions. Without professional training in treating and managing addictive behavior, it’s easy to enable the very person you want to help. But when you know what enablement looks like and how you can stop it, you can set boundaries that may encourage your loved one to pursue treatment instead of further addiction.

What Does Enabling Someone in Addiction Mean?

Enabling behavior looks a lot like helping - but it isn’t. When you allow someone, you give them the authority or means to do something. Behavioral therapists describe enablement as doing things for an addict that they could do for themselves if sober. Think of it this way: when you pay for your addicted loved one’s bills, you’re enabling them because they would spend their bills themselves if they were sober.

There are four types of enabling behavior:

  1. Fear-based. Your loved one makes a lot of threats when they’re confronted about their substance abuse problem. You may enable them to avoid conflict.
  1. Guilt-based. Your loved ones may blame you for their childhood or criticize you for not being there when they needed help. If they do, you might enable them because you fault yourself for their addiction.
  1. Hope-based. Your loved one is consistently on the verge of a breakthrough. You fear that without your support, they’ll lose all the progress they’ve made. Unfortunately, their progress is often a deception used to maintain your support.
  1. Victim-based. In this scenario, your loved one might be a blameless victim. You might hear them say, “If you lived my life, you’d be drinking, too,” or “I would have never started using drugs if it wasn’t for…”

How to Know if You’re Enabling An Addicted Loved One?

Enabling happens in many different ways and forms but you might be enabling an addicted loved one if you:

  • Ignore their behavior or say “it isn’t that bad.”
  • Provide them with money or somewhere to stay while they are in active addiction.
  • Downplay the severity of their problem.
  • Lie to other people about what’s going on.
  • Cover up their addictive behavior.
  • Shield and protect them from consequences.
  • Tolerate mental, verbal, emotional, or physical abuse because “they didn’t mean it.”

How to Stop Enabling Someone?

Enabling someone you care about isn’t an easy habit to break. You’ll have to redefine what supporting your loved one really means, and that may mean doing things that make your loved one upset. You’ll have to remember that even though they may get angry with you now, once they’re sober, they’ll thank you for truly caring for them. Here are a few tips to stop enabling and start getting your loved one the help they need.

Don’t make excuses for them

  • No matter how much you want to, you cannot make excuses for the addicted person in your life. You have to face reality instead. They’re not sick, they’re hungover. They didn’t forget to pay their bills, they used the money to buy drugs or alcohol instead. Denying the problem doesn’t make it go away. You must accept, acknowledge, and realize that there’s a problem. At that point, you can assist your loved one in getting the help they need.

Don’t take over their personal responsibilities

  • When you pay some or all of your loved one’s bills, take on their parenting duties, or clean up their messy house, you allow them the freedom to choose substances over their responsibilities. You relieve them of any sense of duty, making it okay to continue indulging in their addiction. Yes, it is scary to let your loved one fail to uphold their responsibilities because aspects of their lives may be falling apart. We understand that. But we also know that their life falling apart may be the wake-up call they need.

Don’t rescue them from legal and financial consequences

  • Bailing your loved one out of jail or rushing out in the middle of the night to get them out of a predicament enables their behavior to continue. This type of enablement teaches them that there are no consequences for their actions. This unrealistic and unbalanced perspective can feed their impulsive behavior even more, which might make them even more reckless and careless. Besides, why do they need to think things through and make good decisions if you’re always there to rescue them?

Do not loan or give them money.

  • No money you spend will make your loved one stop drinking or using drugs. Addiction doesn’t work that way. But your money can fund your loved one’s addiction. Giving someone struggling with addiction money makes it easy for them to continue using substances, subverts discipline, and downplays the importance of hard work and structure. So no matter how hard, you have to decide not to give or loan money to a loved one struggling with addiction. Cut them off and lovingly push them toward rehabilitation.

In summary, if you want to stop enabling the addicted person in your life:

  • Let them experience consequences
  • Support recovery efforts (research facilities, read addiction and recovery blogs, etc.)
  • Set boundaries

Setting Boundaries With An Addict

psychologist stopping alcoholic from drinkingWhen you set boundaries, you establish ground rules for yourself and your addicted loved one. Ground rules let your loved one know what you will and won’t accept. When you follow through on those expectations, your loved one becomes responsible for their actions and consequences. This helps them face reality and seek help. But ultimately, the boundaries are for you. You have to decide to say “no” and put your foot down. Let your loved one who has a substance abuse problem know that:

  • You will not allow drinking or drug use around you, home, or property.
  • You will not tolerate abusive behavior in any form.
  • You will not bail them out of jail or pay for a lawyer.
  • You will not give them any money for any reason.
  • You will not lie or cover for them, regardless of the circumstance.
  • You won’t allow them to bring drug paraphernalia into your home.
  • You love them and will support their recovery by helping them find an addiction treatment program.

These boundaries are only powerful if you enforce them. If not, you can slip right back into enablement, which can worsen the situation.

Addiction Treatment Expertise in Massachusetts You Can Trust

Here at Meta in Massachusetts, we provide the care you can trust. Most of our expert staff members are in active recovery from addiction, so they know what enablement looks like and how this behavior can disrupt recovery. They also see the type of excuses, blame games, and stories familiar with addiction. At the same time, our team understands the power of boundaries to lead to rehabilitation and recovery. They know what it takes, and they’re ready and willing to help get your loved one on the road to recovery.