Our urge to help solve problems for alcoholics and drug addicts we love can cross the line into enabling them to continue destructive behavior. Enabling means participating in denial of the problem and the failure to set boundaries. It means doing things they are capable of doing for themselves, but they don’t. By nature, we want to help people we care about. When a family member or friend becomes trapped in the downward spiral of alcohol or drug addiction, we want to reach out and fix it. Learning to determine the distinction between offering support and enabling can make all the difference in the recovery process.

Recognizing fear, anger and guilt

Watching people destroy themselves, and often those closest to them, with the effects of alcohol or drug abuse is painful. Family and friends become fearful. They worry about loss of income, reputation, and the addict’s health. They resent the addict’s lack of responsibility, and they feel helpless and guilty about their inability to stop someone else’s addiction. These intense emotions drive the desire to help, often to such an extent that it becomes enabling. The best way to be a friend is to deal with your own emotions and motivations.

How to stop enabling

Once friends or family members actually acknowledge the addiction, the next step is stepping back and allowing the natural consequences of alcohol or drug abuse to happen. This means bringing a halt to behaviors like cleaning up after a binge, lying or covering up for the addict, bailing the addict out of jail, and paying the addict’s bills. In order to stop enabling, one must be willing to make difficult choices. Sometimes it means risking the loss of an important relationship. It takes courage and the support of others in the same situation. In the end, using tough love can lead not only the addict, but the addict’s family and friends, on the path to recovery.
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