Knowing what to do to help someone struggling with addiction can be confusing at best and loved ones often hurt when they mean to help. Although widely misunderstood, enabling addiction can seriously deter an addict’s recovery. So, how can we help an addict without helping their addiction?
Grappling with the complexities of addiction can leave family, friends and partners confused, concerned and downright scared for the wellbeing of their loved one. When it comes to helping someone struggling with addiction, it can be hard to know what to do. Although enabling addiction is seriously detrimental to an addict’s recovery, many well-meaning friends and family members often end up enabling when they mean to be helping.
So, how do we know when our ‘helping’ is actually hurting, and what can we do about it?
The Reality of Enabling Addiction
Addiction has its benefits.
Addiction causes individuals to lose jobs, homes, and relationships – and in the most devastating situations – their own lives. Ask anyone about the downsides of addiction, and you will be greeted with a long list of disadvantages, inconveniences, troubles and risks.
Nevertheless, addiction is not without benefits. Although living with addiction is messy, painful and often devastating, it can also feel comfortable, familiar and even safe to an individual trapped in its clutch. It can temporarily alleviate the pain of life.
Addiction is, at its core, a coping mechanism that enables the addict to remove themself from reality – a reality that may seem too painful and too unbearable to bear. By living with addiction, individuals can temporarily deny financial obligations, societal expectations and emotional wounds that feel too heavy to confront. They are able to avoid facing the challenges they don’t want to face and feeling the feelings they don’t want to feel. Living with addiction is the ultimate escape from the world in which we live.
Why is recovery so hard?
Whatever the so-called ‘benefits’ are that your loved one is receiving, there is one universal benefit that all addictions provide: the temporary escape from their current situation and the challenges that come along with it. The paradox of course, is that temporarily escaping those challenges often only aggravate them, leaving the addict with an ever-worsening situation on the other side of sobriety. Leaving the proverbial Land of Denial to meet the harsh reality of their situation becomes an increasingly daunting task.
When we look at addiction through this lens, it becomes easier to see why the notion of recovery can seem so horrifying to individuals living with active addiction.
Recovery is uncomfortable, challenging and downright hard. Withdrawal can be both physically and emotionally painful – and that’s not to mention the influx of responsibilities that suddenly need to be addressed. The addict may realise that they urgently need to go back to school or look for a job. There will likely be broken relationships that need mending and uncomfortable conversations to have. Emotional wounds will resurface. Old pains will come back.
Living with addiction is hardly a walk in the park, but recovery can seem even more disheartening. Not only is the addict being asked to give up their crutch, they are also being asked to run for the first time in a long time – and often on a sprained ankle.
The Problem with Enabling Addiction
Enabling addiction makes addiction seem easier.
For an addict to want recovery, they need to become so uncomfortable and displeased with their current situation, that even the challenges that come with recovery seem better than continuing on with their current way of living. Coming to this realization can be a important moment in an addict’s path to recovery. Indeed, many individuals need to reach their personal ‘rock bottom’ to finally acknowledge that addiction is not serving them. Enabling addiction can greatly postpone – or even prevent this pivotal moment, as it attempts to remove many of the consequences that make addiction so unbearable. By helping to make active addiction more comfortable for the addict, loved ones inadvertently rob the addict of the incentive they need to want recovery.
Enabling addiction sends the wrong message.
When we enable addiction, we qualify the addict’s delusion that there is nothing wrong with the way things are. To enable addiction is to inadvertently say, I accept the way you are living and I want to help make this lifestyle work for you.
It is easy for the well-meaning family and friends of addicts to fall into the trap of enabling. Enabling can really feel like helping. It may soothe and comfort the addict, and this is a natural reaction to seeing a loved one in pain. Enabling may also help keep conflict from arising, which can feel like the right thing to do in the moment. Nevertheless, the one thing enabling addiction won’t help is your loved one’s recovery.
Which consequences is your loved one avoiding by way of your enabling?
Some common examples of enabling behaviour include:
- Justifying an addict’s behaviour to others so they won’t be socially reprimanded
- Being overly ‘understanding’ towards the unacceptable behaviour of an addict in order to avoid conflict
- Giving an addict a place to stay, even when they fail to contribute
- Keeping the addict’s affairs in order for them
- Paying the addict’s rent or utility bills so that they can continue to live in their home without facing financial repercussions
- Giving the addict spending money
- Doing the addict’s laundry
- Lying for the addict so that they don’t face embarrassment
- Rearranging your schedule so that you can be free for the addict’s dramatic crises
- Giving the addict a new phone when they lose their own
- Picking up and dropping off the addict when they are unable to drive or commute by themselves (because they are intoxicated or out of money)
- Bailing the addict out of jail
While all of these actions are undoubtedly well-intentioned, they actually hurt the addict’s chances of recovery by reinforcing their denial – and hence, their addiction.
Stop Enabling Addiction and Start Enabling Recovery
If enabling is supporting the addict to live with their addiction, then helping is supporting the addict to live without it. This is where you want to make it easy on the addict. This is where you need to offer your support.
Family, friends and partners of addicts can help an addict want recovery by redistributing the advantages and disadvantages of addiction, so that 1) living with addiction isn’t as easy and comfortable as it once was and 2) recovery seems less daunting and more rewarding.
Stop enabling addiction.
If you have been unintentionally enabling a loved one, know that you are not alone. Addiction is a challenging and often confusing disease to overcome, and it can be hard for loved ones to know how to help, so don’t beat yourself up. That being said, if you realise that you have been enabling, it is imperative that you stop. This is a vital first step to getting your loved one on the road to recovery.
Enable recovery and send the right message.
Another way to gently encourage recovery is to make the prospect of it less scary:
- Let the your loved one know that you will support them through their recovery when they are ready.
- Encourage your loved one to spend time with enjoyable activities that don’t involve their addiction.
- Remind your loved one of the benefits of sobriety.
- Be gentle with your loved one while they are rebuilding their life.
- Support your loved one to find a job, return to school, mend their relationships, etc.
- Enlist professional help to support your loved one through recovery.
From Enabling Addiction to Seeking Treatment
Once you have stopped enabling your loved one, you may wonder what else you can do to support their journey to recovery. There are indeed many avenues that lead out of the roundabout of addiction, and having professional support greatly increases an addict’s chances at successful and lasting recovery. The Cabin Singapore offers effective outpatient treatment to both expats and local Singaporeans for a wide range of addictions – from alcohol dependence to compulsive use of the internet. To learn how we can help you and your loved one through this journey to recovery, contact us today.