There’s a significant difference between showing support and enabling someone with a substance use disorder. Not knowing the difference can actually prolong behaviors that are destructive to a loved one using drugs or alcohol and your whole family.
Providing alcohol or money (for alcohol or drugs) are obvious signs of enabling. But, there are many more ways you may be enabling a family member’s substance use than you realize.
Enabling may be confused as a sign of support for a loved one with a substance use disorder (SUD). Enabling usually steps into taking responsibility for their SUD and making attempts to minimize its effect on a loved one and the whole family. Once you recognize the signs of enabling them to keep drinking or doing drugs, you can take steps to stop enablement.
Some of those steps include openly communicating about changes to how you help them, working as a family unit, looking for support from peer groups, and letting consequences, even legal ones, run their course.
Signs of Enabling
Seeing the signs of enabling a loved one to keep drinking or doing drugs requires self-awareness. Not every behavior is directly connected to the substance use, though. Some of the enabling can involve removing general responsibilities from your family member. You may feel like their SUD needs to be managed from the outside.
By intervening in how they function daily, you end up removing some of the most obvious effects of their substance use problems.
For this purpose, let’s focus on behaviors that are directly and indirectly connected to an SUD. This list should be considered a starting point. Along the way, you may discover other ways to stop enabling your loved one.
Signs of Enabling: 8 Steps to Take to Stop Enablement
- Openly communicate about changes to the “norm.”
Ending an enabling behavior abruptly and by surprise can be an ineffective way to make a change to what’s been “normal” until now. The sudden change could make your loved one feel alienated and judged. It could create additional strain in family relationships.
Any significant change to how a family will function should start with an open and honest conversation. A conversation can allow everyone to share their thoughts and feelings about why change is needed. Remember, you’re not seeking permission to make the changes, you’re simply giving your loved one an opportunity to hear about them directly from you and respond to them.
- Work as a family unit.
Each person in the family will have their own approach to communicating with a loved one who’s misusing drugs or alcohol. That’s perfectly reasonable. What you want to do is ensure consistency in responses within the family.
By working as a family unit, you can collectively discuss and address issues that come up. You can talk about how to enforce boundaries, too. This approach also works by helping you become aware of how each person in the family deals with this situation and how your loved one may interact differently with each person.
- Celebrate victories with alternatives to alcohol.
Moments worth honoring can come up for the family at any time. Every occasion of good news within the family doesn’t need to involve alcohol. Alcohol doesn’t need to be excluded from a celebration either. The point is to not make drinking the focus of sharing family time.
Planning for these occasions can involve finding fun alternatives to drinking that may be activity-based. Watching a movie or playing games at home are options. Outings away from home can involve recreational activities. This may be reviving old family traditions or starting new ones.
- Look for support from peers.
You may know people who have experienced something similar with a loved one. Being open to talk about the experience is important. It gives your family a safe place to share the challenges and learn healthy ways to cope with the stress.
You may look to your closest friends and family members first. Keep in mind, your peer group extends far beyond those people. You may be acquainted with other individuals who have similar experiences. They may not have shared before now and kept it private for many reasons.
- Let acceptable consequences exist.
Not every consequence may feel acceptable to you. So, decide what consequences are acceptable and get all family members on the same page. A loved one who drank heavily the night before and slept through an alarm may miss getting to work on time. Forms of enabling in this situation may include waking them up to avoid getting fired, setting extra alarms, or offering to drive them to work.
Part of determining which consequences should exist is recognizing the boundary in your relationship. Proactively helping them avoid problems is taking over responsibilities for them. It’s one thing to be asked for help, it’s another to do the work to cover the problem on your own.
- Allow the process of legal issues to run its course.
One of the most noteworthy consequences is legal trouble connected to drinking. These outcomes can include arrests, fines, and jail time. Charges can include theft, driving under the influence, property damage, assault, and more.
Supporting your loved one through these types of situations can be limited to helping them find resources for legal counsel and encouraging them to handle emotional stress in healthy ways. It does not need to extend into paying to get them out of trouble or asking for favors from law enforcement, legal, or judicial connections.
- Set limits on financial involvement.
A loved one who’s been accustomed to getting financial help will need to know about any new limits or change to that situation. If you’ve been paying bills for them, it’s helpful to explain why you’re choosing to stop. This change may even affect their living situation if they are relying on you to pay their rent.
Again, this conversation should be handled in a direct and respectful way. You can decide if immediately cutting them off from financial help is the right decision for you or if giving them a set amount of time is more suitable to the situation.
- Introduce treatment options.
As with any of the previous steps, introducing treatment options may take more than one conversation or one day to achieve the result you desire most. Introducing treatment options requires time and patience. Your loved one will be resistant to the idea at first, most likely.
Working as a family unit, introduce treatment options through group conversations with your loved one. Take the time to research what’s available in your area. You want each person present to be aware of the treatment options before the conversation so everyone is on the same page.
Avoid introducing it when the time for conversation is limited. Expect that it will take some time to help a family member to see the benefits in individual and group counseling.
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We offer renowned clinical care for addiction and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting sobriety.
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