Enabling is one of the key aspects of addiction and substance abuse. Many people who struggle with addiction find that they have a close relationship with a person who enables them to deny that they have a problem with drugs or alcohol. This dysfunctional relationship also allows them to ignore and be disconnected from the consequences of their behavior An enabler will provide emotional and financial support, help them to hide their addiction, fund their addiction and even make excuses for their problems. The addict knows that there is always someone there to help them, even if they permit the most hurtful, painful and even criminal acts.
Enabling addiction can have disastrous consequences. Health problems, financial ruin, relationship breakdown, injuries and incarceration are all very real outcomes of a persons drug or alcohol addiction. Allowing a person to continue to abuse alcohol and drugs without any repercussions can mean that they will not face up to their problems and addiction until it is too late.
Enabling is Misguided
Enabling is borne out of good intentions, love and care for another person however it has disastrous consequences. An enabler means well by their actions, but their actions simply prolong the consequences of an addicts behavior In many cases, the enabler acts out of shame, embarrassment and fear to protect themselves from the addict and the negative behaviors and outcomes of their behavior
Enablers are often characterized by feelings of inadequacy, low self esteem, low self worth, self-defeating and self deprecating behaviors. They will often be overbearing and compulsively try to help others who will simply abuse their position of power. Alcoholics and drug addicts often have relationships with an enablers because they are able to use them to their advantage and the enabler will give in to their demands. An enabler will often not want to face up to the consequences of their own behavior and relationship with the addict and deny many of the things they do to help the user continue to take drugs or drink alcohol.
Codependent is a term that refers to the relationship that is dysfunctional, inadequate and harmful. A person who suffers from codependency will feel that they will only be happy or content or find peace with themselves through someone else. They will seek out relationships with people who will give them happiness, even if it is not real happiness. They often are abused, victimized, degraded and belittled by their partner. A codependent believes that they are not worthy of being happy and in a loving relationship and that pain and suffering is what they are destined for. This unhealthy attitude sets them up to fail at having meaningful and caring relationships and may in fact go to lengths to push people away so that they are hurt.
Many people who are partners, children, parents or close friends of people with substance abuse issues have codependent relationships that are damaging and manipulative. These relationships can lead to long term dysfunction and other issues which can cause pain, heartache and financial ruin. In many cases, the codependent will enable an addict to continue to abuse drugs and alcohol for the sake of maintaining peace and avoiding conflict. They will allow their partner, child or other family member to take drugs at home, provide excuses for them and their addiction, give them needles or other drug paraphernalia and even give them money to continue to abuse drugs or alcohol.
Abuse of Power in Relationships
In an enabling relationship, the substance abuser is able to take advantage of their sense of power and demand money, support and anything else they wish. They will coerce, lie and pressure the other person to give in to their demands, threatening to leave, abuse the person or blackmail them into believing that their demand may be the difference between life or death. In many cases, the substance abuser takes advantage of the other persons low self esteem and degrades or belittles them into giving in. In some cases, the addict may perform sexual acts for the sake of getting what they want.
This abuse of power is often developed over time out of an already dysfunctional relationship that the enabler and the addict have. The enabler may be the single mother of a child who has built up a long standing guilt-and-reward relationship with their mother. They may draw pity and sympathy from their mother and make them feel bad for bringing them up by themselves. They will use this guilt to get their mother to give in to their demands for money, housing, food or other support without question. In this case it is very difficult for the mother to see the truth behind the relationship and to see that they are being used.
Need for Intervention in Addiction
When someone is suffering from alcoholism or substance abuse problems, they are often in denial about how their behavior is affecting themselves and other people. They avoid people who will tell them they have a problem, act defensive or aggressive, make others feel guilty, or simply ignore the pleas for help. Alcohol or substance abuse is a disease that can create long term health and family problems, and can contribute to an early death.
Ignoring or refusing to acknowledge that there is a serious and harmful problem is very difficult for friends and families to accept. Friends and family often become depressed, angry and feel that there is no hope left. They can be coerced by the alcoholic into believing that everything is fine, that the drinking is under control, but the reality is quite the opposite. Friends and family will often turn to an intervention specialist for help to convince the addict that the problem is not going away and that they need help. An intervention is as much for the addict as it is for those who are trying to help them. For an enabler, it is the opportunity for them to acknowledge their role in the addiction and take steps to change their behaviors and actions.