Are You Enabling An Alcoholic?
Points to Consider
Alcoholism takes no prisoners! It is a disease that not only affects the alcoholic, but also the friends and loved ones of the alcoholic.
It is an ugly, demoralizing, debilitating, and dehumanizing disease that will run amuck through families until it is faced and dealt with, or until the alcoholic dies from it.
There will be no sugar-coating in this article. Alcoholism does not improve over time; it only worsens. As the disease progresses relationships can and will be torn apart, and families can and will be forever negatively affected.
Not a rosy outlook, right? The alcoholic, of course, has a choice. They can continue to drink, they can seek help, or they can die.
But what of the loved ones of the alcoholic? What future can they look forward to? What should they do while their loved one slowly destroys his or her life?
The Definition of Enabling
Our old friend Merriam-Webster tells us that enabling means to provide with the means and opportunity to continue an action, or to give silent affirmation.
With regards to alcoholism, enabling refers to family members and loved ones establishing an environment that, in effect, encourages further damaging behavior on the part of the alcoholic.
But why would they do that you ask? Why would loved ones, aware of the dangers of alcoholism, provide the means and opportunity for the alcoholic to continue drinking? Certainly they know of the risks. Certainly they have experienced the fear and anxiety, the mental and/or physical abuse. Why would anyone in their right mind do anything to prolong that kind of pain?
It is a complicated scenario for sure. Oftentimes, being around an alcoholic, family members become every bit as sick as the alcoholic, and do not even realize that they are enabling.
Reasons for Enabling
Oh what a tangled web we weave! The dynamics of a family affected by alcoholism are so very complicated, and the reasons for enabling are too many to mention all in this article. However, the main reasons most often seen are as follows:
· Lack of information about the disease, or a lack of awareness concerning suggested strategies
· Misguided love
· The need to take care of our loved ones
· The desire to avoid confrontation with the alcoholic
· Avoidance of further ugliness
· The need to have others believe we are nice, thus building our self-esteem
· The Martyr Complex
· The need to control a situation, even if it means doing something harmful
· Thoughts that we are somehow to blame for an alcoholic’s behavior
So what does it look like when we enable an alcoholic? What are some actions that are done, possibly with the best of intentions, but which really end up being harmful?
Let us chat about alcoholism
Examples of Enabling Behavior
Remember our definition of enabling…..to provide with the means and opportunity. The following would be considered enabling when dealing with an alcoholic or, for that matter, any addict:
· Giving money to someone so that they can buy booze
· Getting into arguments with the alcoholic, thus giving them a reason to drink
· Calling the alcoholic’s place of work and “covering” for them when they can’t make it to work
· Making excuses for an alcoholic’s drinking e.g. they are under a lot of pressure lately
· Accepting excuses from an alcoholic
· Having booze around the house
· Drinking with an alcoholic
· Continually trying to fix them or cure them
· Continually giving them one more chance, and then another, and then another
· Living in denial that there really is a problem
And on and on we go! Perhaps you recognize some of these behaviors?
Brain chemistry and addiction
Understanding the alcoholic
- Alcoholism: Inside The Mind of an Alcoholic
Trying to understand an alcoholic is an impossible task for most non-alcoholics. Maybe this article will help in some way.
How to Stop Enabling
I could say this in very detailed language but really there is only one way to stop enabling, and that is to set boundaries and then stick with them.
Understand this very well: the alcoholic is making a choice to drink. You do not have to make a choice to grow sick with them. If you have children, you are harming your children by enabling the alcoholic in your family, and for your sake and the sake of your children you need to immediately establish boundaries that spell out acceptable and unacceptable behavior.
It might sound something like this.
I love you, but I will no longer enable you in your drinking. I will no longer call in sick for you. I will no longer give you money, or go to the store and buy you booze. I will no longer be the victim of your verbal or physical abuse, and I will no longer walk on egg shells in hopes that I do not upset you.
Of course there are other boundaries you may choose to establish, but whatever you outline it is imperative that you do not waver from the boundaries that you have set. If you do, you will once again be enabling and all of your work up to that point will have been wasted.
And what if the boundaries are broken? What should you do?
What are you willing to do? The consequences should be laid out quite clearly so there is no doubt about them. Will you leave the marriage and take the kids with you? Will you kick the alcoholic out of the house? It may come to that and you will have to be willing to follow through on those consequences. If you don’t, the cycle will continue and you and your family will continue to be dragged down into the alcoholic Black Hole.
Is there an alcoholic in your life?
It really comes down to how much misery you are willing to endure. If you love the alcoholic, and if you truly want to help them, then you will set boundaries and not deviate from those boundaries.
Remember, you are not only fighting for the life of your alcoholic loved one, but you are also fighting for your own life and well-being.
It is not your fault that your loved one is sick. You are in no way to blame. However, you are responsible for your actions once you know about the nature of alcoholism.
Last but certainly not least. I know some of you are thinking about setting boundaries, having the boundaries broken, kicking the alcoholic out of the house and then hearing the news that your loved one, who you forced out of the house, drank himself/herself to death. How could you ever live with the guilt and shame?
Hear me on this point: nobody ever forced a drink down the mouth of an alcoholic. It is a conscious choice to drink, even though it is a disease. There is help for all alcoholics if they are willing to accept that help. You, the loved one, are not responsible for the choice an alcoholic makes.
There is an old story I remember from a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous that I once attended. A guy and his family are in a small fishing boat when suddenly dad gets a bite on his line. As he struggles to reel the fish in, it becomes apparent that there is a very large fish on the end of the line. Suddenly a man-eating shark breaks the water fifty feet away. Mom and the kids are screaming at dad to cut the line, cut the line, we are going to die if the shark gets into the boat.
Dad says, “But if I cut the line I’ll lose my bait.”
Words to consider!
2013 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)