Short Answer: Never. I regret trying to help my son find treatment from addiction, said no one ever.
Families of addicts quietly ask themselves daily, how long they can continue to love and support the addict in their life. I did. Coming from that camp, I can say it’s a difficult thought for several reasons. The addict is likely relying on you financially, emotionally or both, and by taking that support away from someone you love, it hurts you and those around you. You also likely have non-addicted friends and family members who are being hurt by the addict (just as you are), and you aren’t in a rush for another fight, blow up or depressive episode. Finally, there might still be people around the addict who are protecting them and don't believe the addict is facing a problem at all. "Are you sure you aren't just blowing this out of proportion?" We get it.
The fact that you are struggling with giving up on a drug addicted loved one means that you are in a unique position, and have the power to help them. That power comes from the love you have for the addict. Because you love them, you can move the mountains your loved-one needs to heal and recover, instead of continuing to move mountains to make them comfortable in addiction.
That doesn’t mean you are stuck enabling your loved one through the rest of their addiction. First, let’s explore the concept of “enabling” and how to recognize it in yourself or those around the addict.
What is Enabling in Addiction?
Enabling is not really a bad word, but enabling an addiction can be a hard thing to come to terms with. You will often find yourself fighting with other family members or those around you, often on the side of the addict. Enabling is just the unhealthy side of the love you feel for the addict in your life. Let’s explore some signs of enabling, in an effort to identify issues that you have control over - and can therefore change!
1. Protecting a Loved One from the Consequences of Addiction
If you are paying rent, bills or debt, or bailing your loved one out of jail, or lying to protect an addict, you are protecting them from valuable consequences, and therefore standing in the way of recovery. Don’t lie to yourself. Paying rent means that much more money for drugs for the addict. It’s likely already been spent. If you consider that the money you share goes directly to drugs, wouldn’t you rather keep it and spend it on yourself? Even wasteful spending is better than funding someone else's drug habit!
2. Keeping Secrets about Your Loved One's Addiction
Secrets and silence about a loved ones’ addiction or consequences of that addiction (debt, DUI, violence) signal enabling behavior. Addicts will try to make a caretaker feel that they are causing issues, when the caretaker voices problems related to the addiction; “Why are you always picking fights about this?!” Does this sound familiar? You are not the problem. Start speaking your truth. Consider attending Al-Anon or another support group where everyone shares similar experiences and everything is kept confidential. I did.
3. Unable to set Boundaries and Expectations
When you can’t maintain healthy boundaries with your loved one, as when an addict continuously searches your room for change after they’ve been asked to keep out, you are enabling this very behavior by letting it continue with no consequences. In addition, if your loved one can’t live up to basic expectations like cleanliness, bills and even standards of behavior, you must enforce those expectations to help your loved one heal.
4. Making Excuses for Behavior
If you explain away all your loved ones’ bad behavior or drug and alcohol use as victimization, stress or totally normal behavior, you are enabling. External circumstances like being fired, getting divorced or suffering an injury may be the vehicle through which your loved one found addiction, but it is often not even close to the underlying cause of the issues.
5. Avoiding the Topic or Your Loved One
If your loved one causes you pain, either hurting you, those around you or themselves, and you simply don’t discuss it - that's a red flag of enabling. These discussions are often stressful, frightening and confusing - but you must have them if you want to help your loved one overcome addiction.
How to Set Boundaries with an Addicted Loved One
If you’ve decided you’ve reached a breaking point with the addict in your life, it’s time to contact a substance abuse therapist or mental health professional for help with the next steps. They will educate you on healthy ways to protect yourself and encourage your loved one to seek help for their addiction. A few of the things a professional can teach you are how to:
Clearly communicate your expectations about alcohol and drug use
Clearly communicate predetermined consequences of relapse or bad behavior
Follow through on all expectations and consequences.
What is Al-Anon?
I am not a group-joiner and I like to keep my struggles to myself. I felt embarrassed that I was considering giving up on my family member. Al-Anon helped me prioritize myself and alleviated the guilt I was feeling. First and foremost, Al-Anon helped me see that I was not alone in my struggles. You will find that many of the attendees have the same stories that you do…sometimes harder stories.
You can attend a meeting and stay silent. We’d advise going and at least listening, because not pushing personal boundaries is an important part of the rules of the group.
Never Give Up on Recovery | Primary Purpose Behavioral Health
Protecting your addicted loved one from consequences is one of the best ways to ensure that they STAY addicted. While it’s easy to focus on the addict as the source for all your issues, you can’t change your addicted loved one. They must want to change and recover. The easiest way to get your loved one into treatment, or interested in recovery, is to make their addiction-lifestyle as uncomfortable as possible.
This does not mean you want to hurt the addict. You do not. You are starving the addiction of comfort, safety and acceptability, not the addict. For help finding sobriety or recovery for your son, daughter, parent or friend, reach out to Primary Purpose Behavioral Health today.