What is an enabler? In answering this question, first, let’s define the word as such. An enabler or enabling is a person or actions that make something possible and persist. There is a lot of negativity surrounding the word, but nevertheless, it should be looked at because there is an enabler in many cases of addiction.
You are most likely living with or know someone who has a substance use disorder, and you would like to help. Whether a person is addicted to illicit drugs, prescription medication, or alcohol, there are reasons why the addiction persists. And one of these may be the enabler.
One can enable a person in different ways. Let’s say your loved one comes home, and you know they are drunk or high by their demeanour. Most people will 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. You might let it continue without bringing up the subject. There are myriad more examples of this. Pretending nothing is wrong or avoiding discussing it all together makes it persist.
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 behaviour,” as mentioned above.
The other important point is making it possible to avoid the consequences of their behaviour. Paying someone’s rent, hydro bill, phone bill, or covering car or mortgage payments is enabling. These are all signs of trying to avoid pain for the addicted relative while steering away from confrontation. When you don’t face the issue, consequences will overpower any efforts to circumvent them. It doesn’t work!
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, house and relationships, their destructive behaviour will continue and may bring them to an overdose, jail, or worse, the morgue.
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. Nor does it mean having a big confrontation with them. You can approach a person with compassion and slowly get agreement.
Nobody grows up wishing or hoping to become addicted. This perspective makes the hardship and turmoil easier to accept and understand. Also, for everybody’s sake, all resentment should be put aside and not taken up with the person.
Help an addicted person by being direct but non-accusative, showing worry and concern, and talking openly about the issue. You should do this 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. Remember to arm yourself with patience and not point the finger. It is also known as “tough love” and possibly the only type of love a substance abuser needs.
But if you need help, it is available with professional addiction counsellors skilled in dealing with the issue. You will find assistance and coordinates on our provincial help page. Also, most rehab centres will have personnel available to help you get your message across. The ultimate goal is to get the person to a residential addiction treatment centre 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 an intervention set up can be your next step. Also, many private treatment programs are affiliated with these specialists. They can work with your family and devise a structured plan to aid that special person you love dearly.