In many familial structures, there is often the unspoken rule of unconditional support: meaning always helping family member during a struggle with no questions asked.
This type of scenario becomes both problematic and dangerous for families who have either a member or members that are struggling with substance abuse and/or mental health issues. There is often guilt-tripping, forgiveness, paying back of money, and stipulations involved. This often creates hostility and co-dependency between family members. This leads to a myriad of issues.
When individuals are struggling with substance abuse they typically resort to family for financial and transportation assistance. More often than not, these actions do not have any repercussions. Money may be for diapers or paying back a loan, but without these damages, the true damages of substance use will not be felt.
Support involving someone who is abusing substances has to be conditional rather than the latter which often is tough for family members to abide by and enforce with one another.
Consequences of enabling behavior:
- Financial loss
- Stress increase
- Substance abuse by other family members
- Criminal activity
- Mental health issues for family members
What is Enabling?
By definition, to “Enable” is to give (someone or something) the authority or means to do something. When family members find themselves enabling their loved ones who are struggling with substance abuse and/or mental health issues, they are allowing these individuals to engage in behaviors that are increasing the symptomology of the disease and disorders.
In the beginning, it usually seems to the family that they are only trying to help and keep their loved ones safe. This however is the complete opposite.
One of the most common ways that family members enable is through money. As a clinician, I have heard from many family members that they either provided the money or the drug to their family member because they wanted to control their loved one’s substance abuse. Family members feel safe providing the drug or the money because they are fearful their loved one will go out and commit crimes or hurt others in order to obtain the money or the drug. However, this creates a reliance on the family and enables the behavior by showing nothing bad happens when using.
How to Stop Enabling?
To erase enabling, all family members need to be on the same page. When the whole family is not on board with this decision this can lead to deceptive opportunities allowing enabling to continue.
Often family members do not want their loved ones to hit their “Rock Bottom”. The hardest part of eliminating enabling behaviors is that it allows the substance abuse to escalate and the accountability for one’s actions to justified. There is an interesting paradox between family members wanting their loved ones or ones to get help while not allowing for them to know their negative behaviors.
Until consequences are felt, people struggling with substance abuse will continue their negative behaviors. Without repercussions, they believe their family will continue to help them no matter what. In order for families to stick their ground and provide tough love for their family members in order for them to be able to help themselves, rules, stipulations, and agreements need to be set in place.
Interventionists often tell families to let their loved ones know of their new stance on enabling. They should inform the person struggling with substance abuse that if they do not receive help in the form of treatment, gain employment, and/or provide their own transportation, then consequences will ensue. These can come in the form of being removed from their residence in which they are not paying for, or authorities will be alerted to their actions, and/or contact between them will cease to exist.
If there are no consequences for the individual who is abusing substances then there will be no advancement in their motivation to want to get help or receive help.
After an individual has finished treatment they often move back into a somewhat familiar environment involving their previous support system. It is easy for people in this power position after successfully completing treatment to feel like they have the upper hand over family members since they completed their treatment, they now can make requests or demands of family members to celebrate their progress. This can come with destructive consequences so it is important for family members to remain vigilant. There should not be large amounts of money or gifts or rewards for the individual who has finished treatment as they are still in the early stages of their recovery.
The addictive tendencies and/or behaviors could very well likely still be present in the headspace of the individual who has recently completed their treatment. If the individual is moving back in with family or friends, there needs to be a rules agreement signed by all parties beforehand. These rules could include:
- random drug testing
- meeting attendance
- follow up therapy,
- chores to be completed and checked in on a weekly basis
The accountability factor becomes that much more crucial now that the individual has begun their recovery process and has completed the first section through the treatment they received. There is a long road to recovery which does not have an end point but rather is on a continuum, this creates the reality for enabling to disappear and accountability to appear.