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Alcoholism and Enabling: When Helping is not Really Helping

Many times when families and friends try to “help” alcoholics, they’re actually making it easier for their loved one to continue with the progression of the problem.

This “help” is called enabling, which often takes on many forms, ones we think are helping but actually not. Any enabling has the same effect—it allows the alcoholic to weasel out of the consequences of his actions. This then lets them continue on happily with their drinking ways, feeling secure that no matter how much they screw up, someone will be there to rescue them from their mistakes.

Enabling is Not Helping

Helping is doing for someone something they can’t do themselves. Enabling is doing for someone the things that they can, and should be doing on their own.
In a way, enabling an alcoholic gives them this atmosphere where they can comfortably carry on with their unacceptable behaviour.

This can happen in many ways, and some of the more common includes:

  • Giving them money you know they’ll spend on drinks
  • Getting into an argument that the alcoholic will use as an excuse to drink
  • Condoning their ways, such as calling their boss telling them they’re sick and can’t come to work, but the truth is they’re having a hangover.
  • Making up excuses for them, such as being under a lot of stress, or accepting their excuses like letting them drink because they’re stressed out.
  • Drinking with them
  • Having beers and other alcohols in the house
  • Giving them “one more chance,” and then another, and another.
  • Not acknowledging the problem, such as pretending that they have no problem or that their behaviour is “normal” and “acceptable.”

Stopping with the “Help”

It may be hard to do, especially if you really love them, but you have to put your foot down. Set boundaries and keep to them. Don’t make threats. They’ll only take your empty threats as a sign they can do what they want. Keep to these threats instead, not backing down on the consequences you told them if they break your trust.
Backing down enables an addict to just push harder that even if they meet resistance, they’ll think you’ll just back down again.

Although it started with good intentions, enabling does more harm than good to the recovery of your loved one. Don’t beat yourself up for having enabled or helped out in your loved one’s addiction, but DO begin removing the safety nets that’s keeping them from recovering. Only by doing so can they have any chance of making the decision to free themselves.

Get in touch with us if you’re troubled by someone’s drinking and want to give them the appropriate help.

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