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How to Stop Enabling an Addict

Trevor McDonald
| July 17, 2017

Community PartnerTrevor is a freelance writer and recovering addict & alcoholic who has been clean and sober for over 5 years. Since his recovery began he has enjoyed using his talent for words to help spread treatment resources and addiction awareness. In his free time, you can find him working with recovering addicts or outside enjoying about any type of fitness activity.

It’s natural for loved ones to enable the addicts in their life. They mean well, trying to provide comfort and what they consider support when what an addict really needs is professional intervention. Family and friends can and do play a big role in an addict’s life, for better or worse. Sometimes, a person might think they’re “helping” an addict when in reality they’re only helping to enable destructive behavior. For example, providing a free place to live, “lending” money (which will never be returned), and giving an addict other essentials frees up their own resources to continue addictive behaviors.

If you think or suspect one of your loved ones is an addict, one of the most difficult challenges is to stop enabling. Remember that addicts are often desperate and will resort to manipulation, emotional blackmail, and that addicts play the victim role to keep feeding their addiction. In many situations, it’s best for family and friends to step away from the situation and let a professional take charge.

Are you enabling an addict? Here’s how to stop and how to really help your loved one get the support they need:

  1. Find professional resources for yourself and the addict. The addict isn’t the only person who needs expert support. Whether you find solace in established organizations like Friends of Alcoholics, seek out one-on-one support from a psychologist or psychiatrist, or try another means of support, make sure you care for yourself before caring for an addict. “You can’t water from an empty pot” is exceptionally true under these circumstances.
  2. Know that you might need to cut support cold turkey. This can be particularly hard for parents or spouses of an addict. For instance, if your 19-year-old daughter is an addict and she’s been living under your roof her entire life, it’s going to be a huge adjustment for everyone to make her move out of the house. It would be a touch traumatic if addiction weren’t the root of the move! However, as long as you’re providing financial resources to an addict, they will find it easier to support their habit.
  3. Define the distinction between love and support. Love and support aren’t necessarily one and the same. You may be able to continue providing emotional support to an addict—or you may not if the manipulation factor is too intense. It’s common to confuse financial support with love. In fact, that’s a tough distinction for everybody, even without addiction playing a role. Removing financial support, and perhaps all levels of support, is a must if you want to really help an addict get on the path to recovery.
  4. Embrace “tough love.” Tough love is at the heart of many successful addiction management stories, but it’s not easy for the addict of their loved ones. This often requires more than removing financial support. It can also mean suspending all aspects of a relationship with an addict (perhaps indefinitely). It means putting yourself and others in the addict’s life first in order to keep them safe. In severe instances, it can mean changing contact information and even getting the police involved. If tough love is looking like the right fit for your situation, you may especially need the help of a mental health therapist to minimize trauma.
  5. Remove the addict from familiar situations if plausible. If you have an underage child who’s an addict, it might be in their best interest to change schools, social groups, and most elements of their life in conjunction with detox and rehabilitation treatment (and under the guidance of an expert). A change in environment can remove temptations, habits and negative influences while giving the addict a new perspective. There are also a number of outdoor camps and outings designed specifically for addicts that offer an immersive experience.
  6. Practice cognitive reconditioning. The most well-known and powerful part of cognitive reconditioning is “self-talk.” It’s common to blame yourself for an addict’s actions, particularly if you’re a parent. However, such thoughts and negative self-talk can cause even more harm to the addict—and yourself. Affirmations, consciously re-structuring how you speak to yourself, and other tricks can help “re-wire” your brain to a more optimistic approach.

Addicts can very rarely function on their own. Many times, it’s a slow downward spiral into the pit of addiction, and a person has plenty of help along the way. From having someone else supply groceries and pay the utilities to sharing a bank account for seemingly endless funds, addicts are creative when it comes to funding their habit but often don’t need to be. Enablers are quick to “help,” not realizing their efforts are backfiring. If you think you’re enabling an addict, it’s time to get help for everyone involved.

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