6 Ways to Stop Enabling an Addict in your life

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Enabling a friend, spouse, parent, or colleague that’s an addict helps the person continue their destructive path. If you have a family member that is abusing substances, you will naturally want to protect them. You may keep silent about the things you’ve witnessed though they are clearly a problem. A colleague at work may be obviously drunk or high and you keep quiet. You may even cover up some of their behaviors so they’re not found out. The behaviors that come with addiction can often be dangerous. They may get into legal problems that become quite costly. The addict may fall into risky behaviors of a sexual nature. They may drink and drive which puts others at risk. The challenge you face is that you don’t know how to address the situation. Afraid to make an accusation that the person has an addiction is part of the reason people will keep quiet. It’s challenging to know what the right thing is to do in a situation where you care about someone and see them going down the wrong path. Here are some ways you can help yourself and the addict in your life.

1. Question the Warning Signs You See from the Addict

There are drinking behaviors that are impossible to ignore. If you’re a spouse to someone who is an addict, you’ll notice the change from sober to under the influence. You’ll notice the strange behaviors and the secretive nature. Here are some of the warning signs that you shouldn’t overlook:

  • They don’t meet commitments.
  • You catch them in lies.
  • They may be abusive to you at times, especially if they’re drunk or high.
  • They are hiding things from you.
  • They become neglectful.
  • They come home with bruises and have obviously been involved in a fight.
  • They say things while they’re drunk or high but don’t remember the next day.
  • They drive drunk.
  • They have had DUI’s or DWI’s numerous times.
  • They may have the shakes when they’re sober.
  • They are unnecessarily anxious.
  • They may sweat regardless of the temperature.
  • They have a hard time sleeping and rarely go to bed when you do.
  • They become depressed, especially if they’re sober.

2. Don’t Cover Up or Ignore Behaviors that Happen due to Substance Abuse

When an addict is intoxicated from alcohol or drugs, this is where the risk behaviors occur. Breaking the law, hurting people physically or emotionally, and then forgetting about it all. Excess use of drugs and alcohol can cause memory loss regularly. Sometimes, you may want to help the addict so you hide the things they’ve done from them. You feel bad for them as they make excuses for why they drank so much. You may not mention the hurtful things they said to you, holding your hurt inside. If the addict is your spouse, you and your kids will work together to clean up the evidence of their behavior. This will never allow the addict to see that there are consequences to their behavior. It is suggested that you don’t clean up after them when they fall asleep in their own vomit. If they act out at a party, don’t attempt to smooth it over. As hard as it is to watch, allow the addict in your life to deal with the consequences by themselves.

3. Don’t Purchase the Addicts Substance of Choice for Them

Sometimes, enablers will purchase drugs or alcohol for themselves and the addict to “celebrate” an occasion with them. Temptations already exist everywhere for an addict, don’t make it worse by bringing them home their substance of choice. This should really be an obvious tip but drug and alcohol abuse have become so common that it’s easy to forget. When you suspect that your partner is addicted to a substance, don’t go to the liquor store and pick them up a 6-pack. Don’t stand on a street corner waiting to purchase illegal drugs for someone. When you already suspect the person is an addict, you can’t make exceptions for them.

4. Don’t Protect the Addict from The Trouble They’re Causing in Their Lives

The behaviors that an addict exhibits are often illegal so there’s always the risk of getting caught. When they do get caught, you shouldn’t try to protect them. Again, they need to face the consequences of their actions. They may be purchasing illegal drugs, stealing money, or driving under the influence. Some of the laws broken may be worse and while you may have the ability to pay the fines or get them out of trouble, you just shouldn’t. If you haven’t had an intervention staged or suggested addiction treatment, a legal intervention may be a catapult for change. Often, when an addict is confronted with jail time or a criminal record, they begin to realize that they have a problem. The severe consequences that come from criminal charges will shift how the addict thinks in ways your words never would. Let the addict go through the process of legal issues on their own. This might be the best opportunity to promote recovery for them.

5. Seek out an Intervention Professional to end the Codependency/Addiction Cycle

Whatever your relationship to the addict, it may be hard to open up about your concerns. The amount of honesty that is required to begin the healing process is not natural for many. That’s why it’s often recommended that you have an addiction specialist help with the intervention. You may be a co-dependent partner which makes it nearly impossible to speak your mind. If you’ve been enabling for a long time, breaking the cycle will feel wrong. The reality is, if you don’t, you will likely lose everything anyway. The addict will continue to incur fines and spend money on their addiction. They will likely lose their job or experience an early death from abusing their body. Eventually, you will lose the addict in your life. You will have built up a wall around yourself and your family that can cause mental disorders. An intervention gives you and the addict a chance to heal. A professional that works with addiction knows what to say because they know the way an addict works. They don’t have an emotional attachment to the addict so it’s easier for them to speak honestly. They guide the intervention with people close to the addict, creating a safe space for everyone to talk.  This is a challenging step but it’s also the first step towards true recovery and openness with the addict.

6. Support Them through the Recovery Cycle

The intervention is the first step to the recovery process but there is still much more work to be done. It’s stressful for an addict to go through recovery. There are also many painful moments that you may have experienced due to their addiction behaviors. It’s important that you heal your wounds and part of the addiction treatment program will include you as well. Support the addict in your life from beginning to end. There are a variety of steps to go through for an addict. This is where you begin to support them in a healthy way and learn more about them. You can support an addict and help yourself heal by attending open group therapy sessions. Al-Anon is a part of the 12-step groups but is specifically designed to help families heal from addiction. You may also wish to attend personal family counseling to pinpoint emotional issues within the family. Once the inpatient or outpatient program has been completed, the dynamic of your relationship to the addict will change. It will need to in order for the addict to stay on track. This will mean that communication is necessary. Through the individual, family, and group counselling, everyone will have a deeper understanding of habits and behaviors that caused the situation in the first place. You can create a plan to make changes which will bring harmony between you and the addict. To avoid relapse, there are methods that can be used. Making time for one-on-one talks with the addict is important, especially in a family dynamic. It’s more challenging to hide from one another so the addict can’t manipulate as easily. Holding each other accountable for the success of the addicts recovery is one way to ensure there is no relapse. Forgive one another. There are going to be thoughts of resentment, pain, and anger but you can begin to open up. Talking through your thoughts and feelings on what their addiction did can be deeply healing. You will learn, with the help of addiction professionals, how to communicate in a constructive way. Through communication and care, your relationship with the addict will improve and you’ll build an important bond. You will begin to understand that the addiction was never about you. That it is a brain disorder and the addict was not in control of their abuse. You will have an understanding of their disorder and stop blaming yourself or them. Shifting from enabling behaviors should include kind words of hope. When you remind the addict that treatment will work and the discomfort is temporary, you help them remain hopeful. NCBI, PMC (July, 2013) The Impact of Substance Use Disorders on Families and Children: From Theory to Practice. Retrieved from, NCBI, PubMed (June, 1995) Enablers: The Other Victims Caught in the Net of Addiction. Retrieved from, NCBI, PubMed (Feb, 2003) Social supporters and drug use enablers: a dilemma for women in recovery. Retrieved from, Taylor and Francis Online, The American Journal of Family Therapy (Vol. 1, 1999) Codependency: A grass roots construct’s relationship to shame-proneness, low self-esteem, and childhood parentification. Retrieved by,