As a societal unit, families are naturally inclined to want to help their members because there is a strong imperative to keep the group together and healthy as a means of preserving and continuing the group.
Therefore it’s understandable that when one family member has a substance use disorder, there is a natural push within families to want to move in to fix the problem.
The sticking point comes when family members and loved ones inadvertently enable the problematic behavior rather than contributing to a solution.
In this way the addiction is supported not confronted, and ultimately given an environment in which to thrive not become extinct.
How can a loved one tell the difference between enabling and helping?
Let’s start with understanding the difference between the two processes.
Enabling happens when loved ones explicitly or indirectly support the addiction in how they act toward or think about the addict and his or her behavior. In the end enabling acts as a buffer which prevents the addict from having to confront the consequences of alcohol or substance abuse.
Downplaying the severity of the situation
This occurs when loved ones seek to lessen the seriousness of addiction. For example, they may tell themselves that the current situation could be much worse, and that the addict’s issues are really not that bad compared to others they know in similar situations. Additionally, loved ones may hope or view the current phase as one that the addict will grow out of or improve on its own given enough time.
Denial is similar to downplaying. It often is the first response when loved ones become aware of an addict’s behavior. In this way they simply deny or reject the idea that their loved one has a substance abuse problem. Because of this stance, they invest in the notion that treatment isn’t necessary and believe that the addict has the knowledge and ability to control their alcohol or drug use.
Allowing substance use
It is common for loved ones to believe that they are helping to control the situation by allowing substance users to use at home. Some go so far as to use alcohol or drugs with the addict in the belief that doing so helps to keep an eye on, and by extension control, their use. In this way loved ones hope and expect that users use only at home and steer clear of more dangerous environments.
Justification involves coming up with logical sounding reasons for why someone is abusing drugs. For example, families may say that a student who is using is doing so to deal with the stress of school and thus will stop after graduation. Or, a loved one may view substance use as a needed coping mechanism after the addict has a hard day at work.
Ignoring the problem
Many families avoid the issue by ignoring it all together. Thus the user is never confronted and loved ones who sidestep the problem feel as though they are keeping the peace at home and within the family. But the cost of projecting a normal appearance to the outside world means that the user never receives proper treatment.
It is common for a family to desire to keep their image unsullied. Substance use stigma can lead individuals to feel embarrassed about an addict or substance abuser which causes them to mislead others about the loved one’s true condition.
Stuffing one’s feelings
Suppressing your concerns about a loved one’s addiction creates an environment in which there is no reason to change. Sometimes we are content to not rock the boat after a substance user dismisses our concerns with reassurances that they will not use alcohol or drugs. It’s understandable to want to keep the peace but doing so could cost much more in terms of health and happiness.
As we said before, our first inclination upon seeing a loved one suffering or on a downward spiral is to step in and try to fix things. It bears repeating: you cannot fix things for an addict and you cannot fix his or her life!
Taking on a substance user’s responsibilities is likely to merely prolong the inevitable. Without a doubt it is compelling to want to step in and restore order among chaos as a way of keeping the addict’s life from disintegrating.
Family members may be inclined to take over the regular tasks and responsibilities of the addict in an effort to prevent their lives from falling apart. This includes giving them money which allows them to continue their addictive behavior.
So, what is the right way to help a loved one and not enable their addictive behavior?
The first step is to cease and desist any of the above enabling behaviors if they’re currently in play.
All of the behaviors above serve to aid and abet the substance user and do nothing to help them confront addiction so that they can receive help.
Beyond stopping what you may be doing now, there are some things you can do to increase the chances that your loved one gets the help they need.
First of all, help yourself. Go to a support group, e.g. Al-Anon and Nar-Anon where you can be among people in the same situation. This allows you to receive support, share your story and learn about other resources that can help you and your loved one.
Second, remember that recovery is a lifelong process and commitment. Getting to the point of addiction did not happen overnight, and neither does recovery happen overnight.
Lastly, you can support your loved one by telling her that you love her but do not condone her behavior. And, if asked, you can show your support in a concrete way by participating in family therapy where underlying issues can be addressed.
Lifelong recovery is possible: all you need to do is reach out. Starbent Recovery was founded on the belief that people suffering from addictive disorders, trauma, and other co-occurring issues can thrive in the right environment.
Our professional, dedicated staff have the understanding, experience, and compassion necessary to support each resident’s clinical treatment team goals. We offer individualized tier level programs, and guidance with residents’ personal recovery and independent living goals.
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To learn more about our premier women’s recovery residence, call us at (800) 673-0176.