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Substance Abuse: Enabling vs Tough Love

Updated on August 30, 2014

An enabler is someone who helps or enables something, especially in destructive behaviors like drug or alcohol addiction. Some will use any means possible to keep you addicted because they do not want you to quit, while others with good intentions don't realize they are actually causing more harm than good.

Here are some reasons enablers do what they do:

1. If you got sober, you'd find someone better.

2. If you got sober, you'd be better than they are and misery loves company.

3. If you got sober, you'd leave them, taking your paycheck or whatever else they need.

4. If you got sober, you'd see them for who they really are and you may not like them anymore.

5. Some enablers mean well by helping due to their own fear you might hurt yourself, causing them distress or feelings of guilt.

6. Others simply do not understand that enabling is the absolute worst thing you can do for an addict.

Some enablers make it easy for you to get high because it's easier to have you this way than sober. Sobriety means dealing with withdrawals, visits to AA or NA and that takes work, time and patience. Not everybody is up for rehabilitating a junkie or an alcoholic.

By enabling, you are destroying your own life and whoever else is being effected.

Addicts never realize their addictions belong to everyone around them. It is like a contagious disease. Everyone that comes in contact with them will get sick in one form or another.

You can't change them but you can change yourself and how you deal with their behavior. If it's become unacceptable or even dangerous, say "no more" and mean it.

An addict's least favorite word is "no" because they don't like being told they can't have something. They are used to getting help and may even feel a sense of entitlement, especially if they live in denial about their problem.

By giving into their needs, (helping them with money, a place to stay or rides to get a fix), the enabler is not allowing them to see the scope of their struggles because they make it easier for them to get high and in time, the addict will learn to depend on this. The only way they will learn is when they hit rock bottom.

And the only way to gauge how far they have fallen is to let them fall down and hit that bottom. If you keep picking them up before they hit, they will never see the harm they've caused.

Tough love is the opposite of enabling. That happens when someone truly loves you enough not to engage in your addiction by trying to help you by any means necessary without enabling you to fall into the addictive behavior.

They know you can only help yourself and will only go so far before they remove themselves from the situation so you can recover on your own. They refuse to help you achieve that high because they understand getting you there is not helping you in the long run, it is only feeding your cravings for the moment, which is always temporary.

It's not easy to say no to someone you love, especially if that someone is your own child. Sometimes you have to see them hit rock bottom in order to get better. It's unfortunate but most of the time, it's the only way addicts really understand the mess they caused to themselves and others around them. Usually it means losing their job, their car, their family and friends.

This is where interventions are commonly brought into play. When family or friends notice a change in the addicts character or life, they all get together and talk to the addict, explaining how he/she has changed and what they would like to see happen from that moment on, expressing their care and love in a very gentle way. This is not a time to point fingers, attack or give ultimatums.

Of course the choice is left to the addict but bringing it out into the open can open the eyes of someone who has been in denial about their problem.

Addicts are master manipulators. They know exactly what to do or say in order to get what they want. Many people fall into this trap because they don't see it coming or just get smooth talked by someone they care for. Eventually, this wears off and in time, the enabler starts seeing that their own lives are being hurt by helping.

It's also good to keep in mind that addicts are speaking and acting through their drug. They are not the same person when they're high because their bodies and minds are in a state of fog and you can't expect them to be themselves. You can't engage in a conversation with an addict the way you would normally engage with someone who is sober. They tend to get defensive and argumentative.

It's a delicate situation but when you have an addict living in your home or someone you love needs help, getting them help is limited if they are adults. You cannot force them to want to get better. This has to be their own decision and in no way should you feel guilty. All you can do is offer to support them emotionally, believe in them if they truly do want to get better, take them to AA or NA, sponsor them if you're recovering yourself but really the choice has to be theirs to change. You cannot change anyone else.

They have to surround themselves with sober individuals, be strong enough to disassociate with whoever is enabling them and take it one day at a time.

If you or someone you love is addicted to drugs or an alcoholic, there is help out there. Click on links below and find your local chapter.

Rosana Modugno
Copyright 2014


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  • Ericdierker profile image

    Eric Dierker 3 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

    Well done on a tough subject. Empathy is the hardest when we just do not understand the challenge.