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Drug and alcohol addiction is more than just a bad habit that stems from poor decisions. Truly, its a disease which affects a person’s physical health and mental state-of-mind.

It’s extremely difficult to know how to deal with a person’s addiction along with their attitudes and behaviors that are associated with their use. The family member or loved one that they once knew is gone and it’s impossible to get through to them and equally impossible to live with them. You’re probably feeling torn because you love them and want to help them in any way you can, but your scared for them, depressed, and angry inside.

Until a drug or alcohol addict is ready to change, they’re not going to seek help on their own no matter how bad their life, your life and the family becomes. Convincing them of their need for help is a waste of time. Their denial is much stronger and louder than your caring and love is for them.

Enabling the Addict

Codependents often feel compelled to solve other people’s problems. If they’re involved with addicts, particularly drug addicts, they usually end up taking on the irresponsible addict’s responsibilities.

Their behavior starts as a well-intentioned desire to help, but in later stages of addiction, they act out of desperation. The family dynamics become skewed, so that the sober partner increasingly over-functions and the addict increasingly under-functions.

This builds resentment on both sides, along with the addict’s expectation that the over-functioning partner will continue to make things right when the addict doesn’t meet his or her responsibilities.

The Al-Anon program suggests that you don’t do for the alcoholic what he or she is capable of doing. Yet, codependents feel guilty not helping someone, even when the person caused the situation and is capable of finding a solution. It’s even harder for codependents to say no to requests for help. The pressure to enable can be intense, particularly coming from suffering or angry addicts, who generally use manipulation to get their needs met.

Examples of enabling include:

  • Repairing common property the addict broke
  • Looking for/finding lost items (wallet, phone, keys, vehicle, glasses/sunglasses, drivers license, credit card, money, jewelry)
  • Lying to the addict’s employer to cover up absenteeism
  • Fulfilling the addict’s commitments to others
  • Screening phone calls
  • Giving money to an addict, gambler, or debtor
  • Making excuses for the addict
  • Bailing him or her out of jail

How to Stop Enabling

Often addicts aren’t aware of their actions when intoxicated. They may have blackouts, however, it’s important to leave the evidence intact, so they see how their drug use is affecting their lives.

Consequently, you shouldn’t:

  • Clean up vomit
  • Wash soiled linens
  • Move a passed-out addict into bed

These responses or lack of responses might sound cruel, but remember that the addict caused the problem in the first place. Because the addict is under the influence of an addiction, accusations, nagging, and blame are not only futile, but unkind. Your unwillingness to enable the addict should be presented in a matter-of-fact manner.

To actually stop the act of enabling isn’t an easy endeavor. Nor is it for the faint of heart. Aside from the fact that you will likely be the recipient of some push-back and possible retaliation, you may also fear the consequences of doing nothing. For instance, you may fear your husband will lose his job. Yet, losing a job is the greatest incentive to seeking sobriety. You may be afraid the addict may have an auto accident, or worse, die or commit suicide. Knowing a son is in jail is sometimes cold comfort to the mother who worries he may die on the streets. On the other hand, one recovered suicidal alcoholic said he wouldn’t be alive if his wife had rescued him one more time.

You may have to weigh the consequences of experiencing short-term pain vs. long-term misery, which postpones the addict’s reckoning with his or her own behavior. It requires great faith and courage not to enable without knowing the outcome. Although enabling can prolong the addiction, not all addicts recover, even despite counseling and going to many rehabs. This is why the 12 Steps are a spiritual program. They begin with the recognition that you’re powerless over the addict. The desire for sobriety must come from him or her.

Taking care of someone who has a serious illness like addiction can be exhausting, and if you don’t take care of yourself you may start to resent the person who you are helping

To avoid unnecessarily suffering the consequences of an addict’s drug use, it’s vital you begin to reclaim your sense of autonomy and take steps wherever possible not to allow the addict’s drug use to put you in jeopardy. Allowing the addict to drive you or your child while under the influence is life-threatening. On the other hand, taking on the role of designated driver gives the addict free license to use or drink. The spouse might refuse that enabling role by taking a separate car. If the addict is charged with DUI, it might be a wake-up call.

Always have a Plan B to cope with addicts’ unreliability; otherwise, you end up feeling like a victim. Sometimes, Plan B might be going to a 12-Step meeting or just staying home and finishing a novel. The important thing is that it’s a conscious choice, so that you don’t feel manipulated or victimized.

It’s a good idea to follow through with plans, whether it’s keeping counseling appointments or social engagements that the addict refuses to attend at the last minute. This precludes the addict’s attempt to manipulate the family.

Having some recovery under his belt, one husband resolved to remain on vacation with the children when his alcoholic wife suddenly decided she wanted to return home. He later remarked, “It was the first time in years that my mind was free of obsessing about her.”

In another situation, an alcoholic husband picked a fight an hour before guests were arriving for dinner. He threatened to leave unless they were uninvited. When his wife refused, he stormed out and hid in the bushes, while his wife enjoyed herself. Feeling ashamed, he never repeated that ploy.

Enabling has implications for all codependents, because they generally sacrifice themselves to accommodate others’ needs, solve others’ problems, and assume more than their share of responsibility at work and in relationships.

Getting the help they need

The cause of addiction will vary from person to person, and it’s important to urge the person who is addicted to seek the help they need from qualified professionals. Treatment specialists who work at recovery centers will be able to help the patient identify the root cause of their addiction while also helping them create a treatment plan that works for them. Along the way, be sure to provide the person you love with all of the support that they need. Overcoming addiction is a huge challenge and results in a complete lifestyle change, and your loved one will certainly need help, assistance, and support along the way.

Don’t forget about yourself. Taking care of someone who has a serious illness like addiction can be exhausting, and if you don’t take care of yourself you may start to resent the person who you are helping. Be sure that you have someone you can talk to during this difficult time, and always take time for yourself to do something that you enjoy.