How Not To Enable An Addict

Sentiment aside, life is better when someone close to you, who is an addict, is recovering and getting better. You should not gratify their behaviour, attitude and wants because it might lead to a destructive path.

Of course, you have to assist them on their journey to recovery but you might be doing it the wrong way. Usually, assisting such individuals will fall into two categories. Either you are helping, or you are enabling the victim.

And there is a thin line between these two.

Lander, Howsare, and Byrne, in their 2013 study agree that family and friends are crucial to an effective recovery process because of the attachment they have with the addict and the support that they can offer. However, they also pointed out that when family and friends allow sentiment to rule so that they try to prevent the victim from facing the consequences of his or her actions (a phase highly critical to recovery), they are not helping at all. Instead, they are enabling and encouraging the behaviour.

In a substance abuse treatment and family therapy treatment improvement protocol (TIP) published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), experts stated that family and friends are a source of help to the treatment process, but they must manage the consequences of the victim’s addictive behaviour. Being an effective source of help, addiction recovery experts even introduced another form of therapy called family therapy in a bid to underscore the immensely vital role families and friends play.

Perhaps, the greater the gain, the greater the risks. In one of the family therapy models highlighted in the TIP, it was noted that family members of a victim may develop co-dependence thereby causing them to enable the victim’s substance abuse. Gruber and Taylor in their research summary, also noted that family—and friends—may enable the victim by avoiding conflict and tolerating and gratifying the victim’s short-term goals of “quick relief”. They noted that the family is compelled to do this because they are emotionally attached and accessible—the only route by which the victim might express suppressed feelings.

The result of all these is an enabling environment where the family member:

  • Helps the victim buy or obtain their substances for a short-term objective or simply giving them the means
  • Pay bills accrued by the victim during the course of recovery and relapse or
  • Fully take up the victim’s responsibilities thinking that it would help
  • Making empty promises—or threats—thinking it would discourage the victim but not following through with those threats

Enabling a victim prevents him or her from seeing any reason to change since it shows that you will always be there. Quite all right, you should always be there. But being available should not in any way reduce the load of responsibilities the addict should carry.

If you have been enabling a victim, then you need to stop by:

  1. Being stern, but welcoming and approachable.

You don’t want to put off the victim because if they don’t get what they want from you, they might look elsewhere. You simply want to prevent him or her from being dependent on you, but close enough to encourage a recovery.

  1. Allowing the victim to take up responsibilities—even little ones.

There are many instances the victim will require help. For instance, you can offer to drive him or her to a destination. However, little responsibilities like buying his or her own toiletries, doing his or her own laundry, or even looking up schedule meetings should not be done by the family member. If possible, you should encourage the victim to take up work so that he or she can contribute to some expenses in the family. Too many drug addicts, the meaning of responsibility is lost. Teaching them will prevent an enabling environment

  1. Establishing rules, explaining and keeping to them.

It is important that there are boundaries or rules. Rules are important safeguards, and without them, people would do anything. For instance, you might explain to the victim why he should not come home late at night. You should set boundaries to buying drinks or giving the victim money or a loan.

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