What is an Enabler? 6 Signs You Might be Enabling an Addict
What is an enabler? By definition, the dictionary will tell you that to enable means to make something easy, to create conditions for it to happen. This simple explanation stands true when related to addiction but encompasses a range of behaviours that, ultimately, allow an addict to continue their destructive behaviour. As long as an addict can continue without facing the consequences of their substance abuse or behaviour, the less likely they are to seek help.
It’s entirely normal laudable even to protect those we love, and this extends to protecting them from themselves. But there is a fine line, one that’s all too easy to cross, between supporting your loved one, constantly rescuing them from the results of their behaviour, and enabling them. Your love, your help, can be having the opposite effect to what you intend.
It’s a difficult path to navigate, being able to show love, compassion and caring without ending up helping your friend or relative simply to continue their destructive trajectory. Enabling behaviours can destroy relationships, prolong addiction and, sometimes, lead to the death or incarceration of a person whose acting out indulging in the addictive behaviour – becomes ever more severe.
Here are some warning signs that you might be enabling the addict in your life.
1. Avoiding mentioning the addiction
This is common in the early stages of addiction but can also go on for long after the addiction is causing problems in and around the life of the addict. You might never mention the issue at all because you are afraid of the reaction. Or you may refer to it gently, jokingly or in passing.
Do you worry about losing the friendship or the love of the addict if you confront them about their addiction? Or even worry about physical violence towards you? It could also be that cultural or personal reasons are preventing you from speaking about addiction. If you had parents or family members who were addicts when you were growing up it can be difficult to admit to yourself that the person you care about also has the disease of addiction and that you might be enabling an addict.
Denial can be a powerful force, both in addicts and in those close to them. If you are denying the problem, or avoiding speaking about it, you are at risk of enabling the addict.
2. Calling in sick for an addict
You may feel the need to help the addict if they are unable to go to work. They might be too hungover or they might still be under the influence. Or maybe they have stayed out all night and not made it home but you know they are due in work. The addict may use emotional pressure to persuade you to call saying how they will be reprimanded or lose their job if you don’t make excuses on their behalf. This sort of behaviour might also occur if the individual is at college or university and you are covering for them.
If the addict knows you will call in sick and make excuses for them, it’s encouraging them to repeat the behaviour in future. It’s enabling.
3. Giving or loaning money
People with the disease of addiction can be very creative and persuasive. Their distorted cognitive function often motivates them to exhibit behaviours that would otherwise be out of character such as lying. Being untruthful can become such a way of life that it’s almost like the person believes their own lies. They can invent all sort of circumstances that mean they are short of money and you are their only hope. But by giving an addict money time after time you are not helping them at all. You are most likely prolonging their addiction.
4. Paying bills for the addict
Maybe you’ve loaned your loved one money in the past and it has not been returned. Of course, there will be plentiful excuses as to why the money hasn’t been forthcoming. But you still want to help the person and you don’t want them to lose their home or have their utilities disconnected so you may be tempted to pay their bills directly. The person may tell you if they don’t get their car repaired they can’t get to work and will lose their job and be out on the street. So, you go ahead and pay the money directly to the person or company that’s owed. What’s the harm in doing that?
Well, by helping the addict to avoid the financial consequences of their actions, you are encouraging them to continue feeding their addiction. It’s almost inevitable that at least some of the money that would have gone to pay legitimate expenses is diverted to their addictive behaviour. You might be enabling a drug addict to buy more of their substance of choice, or a sex addict to visit a sex worker. Whatever the addiction, freeing up money for them to spend on it isn’t helping them.
5. Minimising the disease of addiction
Minimising the disease of addiction can be a form of denial in you and reinforce denial in the person you care about. Friends, family or colleagues may notice behaviour that would previously have been out of character. A normally sociable person may become irritable and difficult to be around; a positive, bubbly person can now seem dejected and lacking in spark. Or a once fit and active person may retreat to their room and interact only with their computer.
Changes in appearance may also be remarked upon. If somebody starts losing or gaining a lot of weight. If their skin is dull and they look run down and tired. Or if they start looking unkept when they formerly kept themselves smart.
All of these can be signs of addiction and concerned friends may comment to you. If you make excuses it feeds the addict’s denial of their condition and makes them less likely to seek help.
6. Not sticking to boundaries
As addiction progresses you might reach the stage where you are ready to lay down some rules and put consequences in place for continued acting out. Maybe you will impose time limits on the computer for a youngster you think may be developing a gaming addiction; or limit money supply to a dependant who is spending it on drugs; or threaten to leave a partner who is gambling away your savings.
As difficult as it can be to lay down boundaries and stick to them, it’s crucial to keep your word. If you clearly lay out consequences for continued problematic behaviour and then don’t keep to them, you are sending a signal that an addict reads as a green light to indulge in their addiction.
No matter how challenging it is for you to keep to your plan, being swayed by pleading, threats or tantrums from the addict and going back on your word, is enabling them.
Your biggest fear might be what will happen to the addict when their behaviour has become so bad that you are thinking of cutting them out of your life. An addiction treatment centre will be able to advise you on how to get them help.
The Dawn Drug Rehabilitation Centre Thailand
At The Dawn, we offer a comprehensive treatment programme for addiction and we also treat common co-occurring disorders like depression, anxiety and trauma. The programme employs the most effective treatments for these conditions, including group and individual counselling, CBT and EMDR, alongside holistic therapies like meditation, mindfulness and yoga.
Importantly, we also have a Family Treatment Programme included in the cost of the addiction treatment. Most enablers are family members who love the addict and desperately want to help them. At The Dawn, family members can come to the centre for three days to learn more about the disease of addiction and also to learn how best to support their loved one after treatment. Research shows that addicts whose loved ones are involved in their treatment are more likely to stay clean and sober long term.
Call or contact us today for a confidential chat to find out how you can stop enabling and start empowering the addict in your life.