Drug Addiction – What is an Enabler?

What is an enabler? In answering this personal question, it would be useful to know a few things about addiction and what enabling means. You are most likely living with or know someone that suffers from addiction, and you would like to help. Whether a person is addicted to illicit drugs, prescription medication, or alcohol, there are reasons why it persists.

The Start of Addiction

Blue and white capsules containing AdderallThe addict, in most cases, was not born with a drug addiction problem. Many grew up in a loving family, good schooling, excelled in sport, and other endeavours. But somewhere along the line, life threw something their way. It can be anything from death to losing a job, not wanting to feel bored, or a thousand other reasons. In all cases, the person faced a life situation with unwanted emotional or physical pain. The individual who has no immediate solution is stuck with it now. Relief is wanted to make life easier. For many centuries past and up to this day, people drink alcohol to take the “edge off.” In 2020, we consume prescription medications, weed, or any other street drugs in a more prevalent and open way.

But use over time can create an addiction. The addictive compounds in the drug itself are also part of the reasons people get and stay addicted. Moreover, people tend to tolerate it, or excuse it, or not put importance on it as they should. Most don’t know how to deal with it, not knowing enough on the subject to treat it with certainty. There is, however, a factor involving addiction that is often overlooked, the enabler.

A Definition for the Word “Enabler”

What is meant by enabler? The Merriam-Webster dictionary states it to be “One who enables another to persist in self-destructive behavior (such as substance abuse) by providing excuses or by making it possible to avoid the consequences of such behavior.” The definition says, “one who enables,” enable means, “to provide with the means or opportunity.” We will break this down further in the next few paragraphs.

The Case of “Burying one’s head in the sand.”

One can enable a person in different ways. Let’s say your loved one comes home, and you know he or she is drunk or high by their demeanour, and you avoid the topic afterward. Or your spouse got paid on Thursday, and by Saturday morning, there is no money left, and he now sleeps for the next 24 hours. You know that this doesn’t make sense. If you are an enabler, you will let it continue without bringing up the subject. We could give many other examples, but basically, it’s pretending nothing is wrong or avoiding discussion about it altogether.

The Enabler: Making Excuses

Another way to enable is “by providing excuses.” That is easy to observe, and you may recognize yourself in one of these examples. It’s explaining away a behaviour, like: “he’s going through a hard period” or “she could not be at the family diner because she’s working long hours” or “he never was an outgoing child, and this is why he spends his days in his room.” There are thousands of ways to excuse a person’s conduct. Many a parent may be embarrassed to know their child is an alcoholic or addicted to drugs. We all try our best to educate our children to grow up and have successful lives. But life doesn’t always play fair or make it easy despite the parents’ hard work and good intentions.

Those most vulnerable to providing excuses about a loved one’s actions will be those who want to help without knowing how. By acting in this manner, a person is causing more harm than good. In fact, it merely permits the person to “persist in self-destructive behavior.”

The Enabler: Avoiding Consequences

The next part of the definition is vital, “making it possible to avoid the consequences of such behavior.” The actions of paying someone’s rent, hydro bill, phone bill, or covering car payments, is enabling. These are all signs of trying to avoid pain for the relative while steering away from confrontation. When you don’t face the issue at hand, consequences will overpower any efforts to circumvent them.

The person may avoid the loss of the house or the car and be able to eat for some time. But whatever you do to “help” them escape these consequences, the addiction will unavoidably cause it to occur anyway. Unfortunately, family members will suffer further from the impact of this action, financially and in spirit. Furthermore, after losing their job, relationships, and house, their destructive behaviour will bring them to an overdose, jail, or the morgue.

Is there an Enabler?

Are you or someone in your family or close relative aiding, supporting, or permitting the abuse of drugs, medication, or alcohol to continue? If so, no matter what reasons that person might have, the situation should and must be stopped—enabling is what not to do when you want to help anyone struggling with addiction. It neither means to let them wither and die alone in the gutter away from family and loved ones. One must remember that nobody grows up wishing or hoping to become an addict. This point of view makes the hardship and turmoil occurring easier to take and understand. Also, for the family and the addicted person’s sake, all resentment should be set aside and preferably forgotten.

Help the Addict

Help an addict by being direct but non-accusative, showing worry and concern, and talking openly about the issue. This should be done when the person is sober. There is professional help available if you need assistance. But usually, a direct heart to heart will win in the end if you remember to arm yourself with patience and not point the finder. This is also known as “tough love” and possibly the only type of love a substance abuser needs.

But if you feel you need help, it is available with professional addiction counsellors skilled in dealing with the issue. Also, most rehab centers will have personnel available to help you get your message across. The ultimate goal is to get the person to a residential addiction treatment center with as little delay as possible.

If, after talking to the person on several occasions and they still refuse assistance, and you’re at wit’s end, getting a professional interventionist can be your next step. Many private treatment programs are affiliated with these specialists. He or she will work with your family and devise a structured plan to aid that special person you love dearly.

Susan Chubbs
Drug & Alcohol Treatment Specialist