Familiar ways of enabling the addict include taking responsibility for his or her bills or other obligations, providing shelter and food for the person who refuses to work and uses instead, and making excuses to others for the addict’s poor behavior. By engaging in these common enabling behaviors, we allow our loved ones to avoid the results of addiction, and the addict or alcoholic has less motivation for recovery. Standing back and allowing a family member or dear friend to suffer the devastating outcomes of addiction is painfully difficult. But sometimes, it’s the only way an addict can come to the kind of low point required for making difficult changes. Being aware of even the more subtle ways of enabling the addict may be important to your loved one’s recovery.
Lesser Known Ways to Enable the Addict
- Exaggerating or embellishing your own past behavior to diminish the addict’s guilt. If you’re apt to say something like, “I was just like you at your age,” or “If you think that’s bad, here’s what I did when I was drinking and using,” you may be enabling the addict by providing justification for your loved one’s behavior. While we don’t want our addicts to feel bad about themselves, we do want them to know their behavior is hurtful not only to themselves but to others. Stay away from your own drinking and drugging stories and focus on what you’ve done to improve your situation.
- Repairing common property broken by the addict. If the addict has broken a piece of property he or she owns with you, it’s tempting to fix it, since it’s partly yours. But this is a way to enable the addict. For instance, if the addict has run over a garden along the driveway of a house you own together, it makes sense to take care of it. On the other hand, letting it remain in disrepair may be a good reminder for the addict every time he or she drives into the driveway. Let the addict do the repair.
- Providing rewards for recovery. Sometimes addicts relapse chronically in order to get the attention and rewards that come from returning to recovery. When someone enters recovery or comes back after a relapse, it’s best to acknowledge the courage it took but without fanfare or material rewards. Let the outcomes of recovery be the addict’s reward.