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  • When your loved one struggles with drug addiction, it’s important to provide support. However, there’s a difference between supporting someone and enabling them. 

    Enabling means preventing an addicted person from facing the consequences of their actions. When they don’t face consequences, they are much less likely to seek professional help. Here are seven of the most common enabling behaviors

    1. Making Excuses

    Addiction can quickly consume a person’s life. Your loved one may struggle to focus on anything besides drugs and engage in self-destructive behaviors, such as missing work or constantly canceling plans with friends. 

    In these instances, you might be tempted to lie on your loved one’s behalf. For example, you may tell their boss they missed work because they were sick when they were actually hungover. 

    At first, this behavior might seem helpful because it prevents your loved one from getting reprimanded. However, that reprimand could motivate them to get help for their addiction. Without it, they will likely continue to miss work and make other poor choices as their disease worsens. 

    2. Taking On Responsibilities

    Along with falling behind at work or school, many people with addiction struggle to keep up with daily responsibilities such as cleaning, cooking, and taking care of their children.

    Initially, you might just help out with these tasks on occasion. As your loved one’s addiction gets worse, though, you may find yourself taking on most or all of their responsibilities on a regular basis.  

    This is one of the most common enabling behaviors. It’s often a sign of codependency. 

    Codependency is a type of unhealthy, one-sided relationship in which one person needs the other person, and the other person needs to feel needed. You can recover from a codependent relationship by attending therapy and support groups.

    3. Giving Money

    Many people give money to their friends or family members from time to time. However, when your loved one has an addiction, they may ask for financial help frequently, especially if their drug abuse has left them unemployed. 

    Like other enabling behaviors, giving money seems helpful but actually allows your loved one to ignore their addiction and avoid treatment. In addition, even if your loved one claims they will use the money for rent, food, or other necessities, they may just spend it on drugs.

    4. Denying The Addiction

    When confronted about their addiction, your loved one may show signs of denial. For instance, they might claim that their drinking habits are normal, that they can stop drinking or using drugs any time they want, or that they have never used a certain drug despite obvious evidence. 

    If you don’t immediately recognize this behavior as denial, you might start to believe it yourself. You may even tell your friends and family that your loved one is perfectly fine.

    While denial might feel nice, it will only make your loved one’s addiction worse. It can also lead to self-isolation if you start shutting out people who insist your loved one has a problem. 

    5. Ignoring The Addiction

    At some point, your loved one’s harmful behaviors may become impossible to deny. However, you might choose to ignore them in hopes they will eventually stop. 

    Unfortunately, like other diseases, addiction doesn’t just go away, and recovery is a lifelong process. Your loved one will likely need professional treatment, support from friends and family, and ongoing aftercare to reduce the risk of relapse

    The sooner you acknowledge your loved one’s disease and talk to them about it, the sooner they can start their recovery journey. If you’re nervous to confront your loved one about their addiction, seek help from a therapist, addiction specialist, or supportive friend or family member.

    6. Sacrificing Needs

    When you regularly enable your loved one’s addiction, it’s easy to ignore your own needs. 

    For example, taking on someone else’s responsibilities can leave little time for your own tasks and hobbies. Similarly, if you’re always giving your loved one money or bailing them out of jail for drug-related crimes, you may struggle to pay your own bills. 

    Over time, neglecting your needs takes a serious toll on your quality of life. It can also lead to  poor self-esteem, anxiety, and depression.

    7. Feeling Resentful

    Even if you don’t realize you’re doing it, enabling can lead to resentment. 

    For instance, you may feel angry that you spend so much time doing things for your loved one when they never return the favor. You may even start to resent yourself for being so devoted to someone who doesn’t seem to want to get better.

    When these feelings occur, don’t ignore them. Instead, let them motivate you to stop enabling your loved one so they can finally face the consequences of their behavior and seek help.

    If you or someone you love struggles with drug use, please reach out to an Ark Behavioral Health specialist. Our substance abuse treatment centers offer medical detox, mental health counseling, and many other forms of  personalized, evidence-based care.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2023 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.

    Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly - Enabling or Engaging? The Role of Recovery Support Services in Addiction Recovery
    Department of Veterans Affairs - What Is Enabling?
    National Institute on Drug Abuse - Understanding Drug Use and Addiction DrugFacts

    Medically Reviewed by
    Kimberly Langdon M.D.
    on August 26, 2022
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