Addiction is hard for everyone involved, not just the addict. This is something that is often overlooked. As the friend of the addict, you’re probably supportive of his efforts to fight his addiction and get sober, which is incredibly important. However, you have to be certain that the support you’re showing isn’t actually sabotaging his ability to get better. Unbeknownst to a lot of loved ones in any addict’s recovery, their misguided efforts to help may actually be doing more harm than good. Addiction, after all, is a compulsion that demands to be fed. If you’re doing anything to pacify the addiction rather than help your friend overcome it, you may be guilty of what health professionals call enabling. This behavior isn’t purposeful, of course, but it is harmful. But how can you know for sure whether or not you’re an enabler in your friend’s addiction?
Signs That You Might be an Enabler
Being an enabler doesn’t always mean that you’re physically handing your friend drugs or alcohol. Enabling comes in many forms, most of which are cleverly disguised as well-meaning helpful behavior. Examples of enabling addiction that you might not even realize you’re guilty of might include:
- ignoring your addicted friend’s self-destructive behavior
- being reluctant to address the problem with your addicted friend
- lying to others about the addiction on behalf of your addicted friend
- avoiding certain situations involving your addicted friend out of fear or discomfort
- cleaning up after your addicted friend so he doesn’t get caught or get into trouble with others
- neglecting your own needs in favor of doing anything and everything for your addicted friend
- blaming anyone or anything else for your addicted friend’s problems (i.e. “It’s not his fault.”)
If you have been doing any of these things, you have unwittingly been an enabler of your friend’s addiction. But what exactly is the harm in any of these actions?
The Detriment of Enabling
When you enable an addicted friend, you’re not doing anything to help his situation. In fact, you’re making things worse by watering down the consequences of his addictive behavior. Without eye-opening consequences, your friend might not be motivated to change. Even worse, he might deny that he has an addiction at all. People who struggle with addiction will typically find any opportunity to lie— to others and to themselves— about the severity of their problem. This is what makes enabling so detrimental to addiction recovery: it fuels the addict’s denial.
Taking Action and Making Positive Changes
If you realize that you’ve been enabling your friend’s addictive behaviors, it’s not too late to do something about it. First and foremost, let your friend know that you are there to support him. Then, be open and honest about the new groundwork of how your relationship will move forward. Talk it out; be straightforward and specific about what you will do to show support, but also be sure to let your friend know what you will not do or stop doing.
Ways to Show Support Without Enabling
It’s important for you to remember that you can still be supportive without being an enabler. Laying everything out can be hard, but it’s an important part of your friend’s recovery process. Here are some ways you can help your friend through their recovery process:
- Be open and honest with your friend about your role. Your feelings matter just as much as your friend’s. After all, his addiction is a disease that affects you too. Be sure to let him know that you’re not abandoning him, but you won’t encourage the addiction anymore.
- Stave off temptations as best as you can. This means doing more than just keeping your friend away from people or places that remind him of his addiction. If your friend is an alcoholic looking to get sober, don’t drink around him or give him any kind of easy access to alcohol. If your friend is addicted to drugs, it would be beneficial for you both to avoid other addictive habits like smoking cigarettes. Even if you friend is successful in quitting his substance of choice, it won’t do any good if he just finds something new to fixate on.
- Encourage you friend’s progress and budding sobriety. Spend time with him doing things that are fun without drugs or alcohol. Praise your friend for his hard work so far. You can show support through positive reinforcement. Still, some tough love might be needed, too.
- Put your foot down when you need to. If your friend isn’t putting in enough effort to get sober, you may have to insist that you won’t give him any of your time when he is under the influence. Try to keep your friend motivated and determined to get healthy again. By setting boundaries and sticking to them, your friend stands a better chance of taking responsibility and, subsequently, overcoming his addiction.
Be a Friend, Not an Enabler
Enabling an addict is a multifaceted behavior that many loved one don’t even realize they’re guilty of. Even worse, it can be a difficult to break the habit. However, in order for your addicted friend to truly recognize the consequences of his behavior, you must stop enabling his addiction. Give your friend and yourself a gentle push in the right direction to repair his health and your friendship. If you think you might be an enabler of your friend’s substance abuse problem, call Diablo Valley at 925-289-1430. Our programs and services can help your friend, and you, regain control of your lives and your friendship.