Families support one another.  They protect one another.  They celebrate success together.  They even help shoulder difficulties when they arise.

I’m going to ask you to look at families as a dynamic system—when there is a problem the whole system is affected, not just the individual.  Add an addict into that dynamic system and all of that love and support can get twisted and shifted and can very quickly turn into a toxic environment where enabling the addict’s destructive behavior becomes the norm.

Enabling behaviors pour gasoline on an already blazing fire known as addiction.

Before you read any further, I need to tell you that you may find this difficult to read, because I am asking you, the family members, to look at yourselves.  This is meant to educate you further, whether your loved one is in active addiction, in treatment, or on their journey after treatment.   We know that you have tried your best to help them.  But did it work?  Did they get sober due to all of your begging, or pleading, or efforts to control them or their drug use?  For so long now you have been focused on your loved one—the addict.  You may not even realize how unhealthy you have become in the process.  You will play a vital role in getting your loved one into treatment as well as in your loved one’s recovery while in treatment.  We here at GraceWay believe that families are an integral part of the solution and it is our mission for not only the addict to get well but the families, too.

So, what does enabling look like?

Enabling an addict actually replaces activities that a person with an addiction should be capable of handling alone.  Examples include everything from paying their rent, for groceries, doing their laundry, giving them money, paying their car or insurance payments, paying their bills, always coming to their rescue, being a “fixer”, as well as justifying their behavior, lying and keeping secrets for them, and minimizing their addiction.  It can also look like “cushioning” their downward spiral or consequences or trying to fix the messes they make.

Even though you may believe that you are helping them, what you may not realize is that this type of enabling behavior can have deadly consequences.

In a nutshell, enabling is doing for others what they can and should be doing for themselves.  Enabling someone robs that person of their dignity.  And let’s face it…addicts are doing a fine job of doing that for themselves already.  They don’t need their families adding to it.  Enabling makes their addiction easier to maintain.  They don’t suffer any consequences because of all the work their family is doing.  Why would they seek change at this point?  They have absolutely no reason to want to.

Addiction is a family disease because the family becomes addicted to their role of enabling—or fixing.  It has consumed them.  Just like the addict’s life has been dependent on the drug, the family’s life has become dependent on the addict.  The insanity in all this is that they are repeating the same type of behaviors expecting different results.

The solution lies in not enabling, but in helping.  There is a big difference between the two.  Helping looks like setting boundaries and enforcing rules while still providing love.  Sometimes it means having to say no and taking a hands-off approach.  And sometimes it even means having to distance yourself and allowing them to make their own choices and experience whatever consequences they receive due to their behavior.  This does not mean that you don’t love them.  It means that you love them enough not to play an active role in their addiction—in their self-destruction.  Remember, an addict will only want to do something different once they have no more “outs” and begin to experience consequences for their actions.

It is unfortunate when we here at GraceWay have to witness what results from family members who refuse to change their own destructive behaviors.  The families who refuse to look at how they have contributed to the problem and the families who refuse to take suggestions.  The outcomes are hard to watch.  The one thing that these families all have in common is the thinking that suggests, “She’s the sick one!  Why would I need help?”  This way of thinking in itself is a type of denial, similar to the denial used by an addict regarding their addiction.

At GraceWay we understand that addiction hurts the whole family.  This is why we believe that it is absolutely essential that solutions are designed to restore the whole family, not just the addicted individual.  We expect not only the women here seeking recovery support, to be honest, willing, open-minded and transparent, but it’s imperative that her family is as well.  We also require family members to attend Al-Anon meetings—this is truly the first step in stepping out of the problem and becoming a part of the solution.  We hold family workshops and take time educating families on the do’s and don’ts, as well as what to expect and the most important thing we do is provide suggestions.  There may come times when the suggestion is given isn’t one you think is going to work—but it is in those moments we ask that you trust in the process.  Remember, your methods haven’t worked in the past and our ultimate goal is the same as yours…that your loved one to learn how to live sober, one day at a time and have a meaningful life.

Working in the field of addiction recovery, I get asked frequently by families how they can best support their loved one in their recovery journey.  My number one response is to cease all enabling behaviors.

So, what is the best way for families, or friends, to show support to someone in recovery?  The first step is to take care of YOU.  Al Anon is a great support group that allows loved ones to learn how to take care of them and become apart of the solution.  Addiction is a disease that wreaks havoc on the family system and because of this the family, even with the best of intentions, becomes part of the problem.  We see this often, unfortunately.  And reality is the family is 50% of the solution. 

What does being part of the problem look like? It looks like this:

  • Not following the recommendations of the treatment team
  • Not attending Al Anon and/ or therapy.  This is for YOU.  Addiction wreaks havoc on the family system, and it is vital for you to get help and heal.
  • Not setting or establishing healthy boundaries.
  • Using drugs or alcohol with them.
  • Co-signing your loved one’s addiction.  This can be addictive thinking or minimizing a relapse because in your mind “its only alcohol, or its only pot”.  A drug is a drug and the disease of addiction, once ignited by any mood or mind altering substance, becomes a blazing fire out to destroy your loved one.  
  • Keeping secrets.  Addiction thrives in secrecy.  If you are keeping secrets from other family members to “protect” your loved one—you are a part of the problem.
  • Attempt to control your loved one’s recovery.  This is not yours to control.  If your loved one is in treatment, then they have a team of professionals surrounding them 24/7 to help them learn how to live sober.  If you loved one is out of treatment, then they have a support network that is available to them and it is their responsibility to use this to aid in their recovery.  Remember, you can’t fix them.  All you can do is take care of you and learn how to be a healthy support for your loved one, which requires setting limits and implementing boundaries.  
  • Lastly, no enabling. Zero.  If you forgot what enabling looks like go back to that paragraph earlier in this blog.

When loved ones are apart of the solution, the chances for long-term recovery significantly increases.  We have seen this time and time again.  And when families are a part of the problem, chances for their loved one to relapse significantly increases.  A treatment center can only do so much, therefore, it is imperative for families to educate themselves and work with the treatment team and be a part of the solution as well.


Author GraceWay

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