[Note: In this article, as in all on this site,I use the terms “addict” and “alcoholic” interchangeably. Addiction is addiction, and a drug is a drug, whether legal, socially-acceptable, or not.]
ENABLING refers to the tendency of those connected with alcoholics and addicts to “help” the person. However, in doing so, they allow the addict to avoid the consequences of their drug or alcohol use. People who enable addicts are the person’s codependents.
In order for addicts to become willing to make the changes that lead to recovery, it is necessary to break through their denial so that they can begin to comprehend the extent of their problem and recognize the need for change. Enabling helps addicts avoid suffering the consequences of their disease, and allows them to continue in denial.
Enabling can increase the length of time necessary for addicts and alcoholics to reach rock bottom* by many years. It is always the wrong course of action, and it makes the enabler an accomplice in the disease process. Would you rather see your loved one go to jail for DUI, or to the morgue the next time she drives drunk?
Here are some questions that will give you an idea of how you stack up in the enabling department. Please consider that enabling can apply to undesirable behavior other than substance abuse. (Doting parents, take note.)
- Have you ever ‘called in sick’ for your addict because they were too hungover to go to work or school (or tired from staying up playing video games)?
- Do you ever make excuses for the addict’s drinking, drugging or other behavior?
- Have you ever lied to anyone to cover up for your addict? How about lying to yourself?
- Have you ever bailed the addict out of jail or paid his or her legal fees?
- Have you accepted part of the blame for your addict’s drinking, using or behavior?
- Do you avoid talking about the person’s behavior out of fear of the response?
- Have you paid bills that the addict was supposed to have paid?
- Have you loaned money to an addict?
- Have you tried drinking or using drugs with the addict in hopes of strengthening the relationship?
- Have you given your addict “one more chance” — and then another and another?
- Have you threatened to leave if they didn’t stop drinking or using, but stayed on anyway?
- Have you finished a job or project that the addict failed to complete himself?
If you answered Yes to any of these questions you have enabled the alcoholic or addict to avoid the consequences of his or her own actions. There are many more examples, but these are the common ones.
* “Rock bottom” refers to the point where a person is so miserable that they realize they have no choice but to change their life drastically. Addicts who avoid a bottom don’t usually develop lasting sobriety.