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What Does Enabling Look Like?

The support of loved ones is a crucial part of recovery. If you are a friend or family member of someone struggling with addiction, you know how challenging it can be to encourage them on their journey.

Addiction can complicate relationships and it is easy to fall into unhealthy patterns of enabling their choices. Enabling can result in a pattern called co-dependency. This is a familiar dynamic between someone who is struggling with dependency and their loved ones. It isn’t always easy to spot; enabling isn’t as straightforward as it might seem. More often than not, enabling is a survival skill in an effort to avoid conflict, violence, or loss of a relationship. Here’s what it actually looks like.

Excusing and Ignoring Behaviors

When someone you love is facing addiction, it often feels like they’ve changed into someone unrecognizable. You might find yourself in denial, making excuses, or even ignoring behaviours because it is hard to reconcile the person you know with how they’re now behaving.

Saying, “this is only a phase,” “they’re just having a hard time,” or “it’s not as bad as it seems,” are examples of the internal dialogue that might be behind this type of enabling. In some cases, you might be so nervous about conflict or loss of a relationship, that it feels easier to live with the addiction-related behaviours than speak up.

Micro-Managing Emotions

If addiction has left your loved one unpredictable, moody, or explosive, you might feel you are always walking on eggshells. If you are reorienting your entire day to protect their mood or watching every word that leaves your mouth, you might be enabling them by micro-managing their life and their emotions.

Controlling circumstances to prevent your loved one from using or acting out comes from a desire to keep the peace. But you are not in charge of your partner, child, or friend’s addiction. What’s more, this kind of micro-managing can shield them from the consequences that could ultimately motivate them to seek help.

young couple arguing, woman angrily looking off in the distance.

Lending or Gifting Money

Addiction is often detrimental to a person’s finances. It demands the addicted person to take risks that leave them without the resources to live their day-to-day life. Whether it be skipping work or emptying their bank account.

No one wants to watch their loved ones suffer, but jumping in and rescuing them from financial distress is a form of enabling. Lending or gifting money to get someone out of a tight spot may prevent them from facing the pain of not changing.

Taking Over Their Responsibilities

If your partner, child, or parent is letting their responsibilities slide, jumping in and taking on their workload can be a form of enabling.

Sure, it might seem so much easier to do the yard work for them, respond to ignored emails in their place, or complete overdue homework. The truth of the matter is that the fewer consequences there are when addiction interferes with day-to-day life, the easier it is to continue without making changes.

Allowing the Relationship to Remain Unchanged

All healthy relationships need boundaries. When one person in a relationship is facing addiction, their behaviour can become harmful to the people around them. In some cases, the best boundary is leaving the home and suspending or limited communication for a time.

Allowing a relationship to remain unchanged can feel like unconditional love. But love without boundaries can further enable their harmful choices. It is important that you feel free to protect yourself and anyone in your care, even if this could mean estrangement.

young couple arguing, woman enabling actions of partner looking down and sad.

Finding Support

We understand it can be difficult to see if you are enabling a loved one struggling with addiction. Setting boundaries is a skill that takes awareness, practice, and time.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, we can help. Our treatment programs include family services designed to meet the needs of those closest to our clients. While your loved one is in addiction treatment services, you will be guided through the beginning of your own healing. Then, our counsellors will help you find long-term support from therapists in your community for continued support.

Contact us to learn more about our facility and how we can help you on your journey to recovery.