How You May Be Indirectly Enabling Your Loved One’s Addiction

Individuals with substance use disorder (SUD), a disease more colloquially known as “addiction,” often have family members who unintentionally enable their behavior. If a family member struggles with substance misuse, your response to their behaviors will directly affect their disease. You might enable maladaptive behaviors without intending to cause harm or out of a misplaced sense of loyalty. Perhaps you try to show your family member that you love them unconditionally by not judging their choices. 

Unfortunately, this often translates to avoiding the problem and allowing it to fester under the surface. A mental health specialist at A New Hope Recovery can help you intervene on behalf of your loved one and address how substance misuse may have impacted your family.

Substance abuse affects everyone in the family unit, and the longer it goes unacknowledged, the more ingrained and damaging the behaviors become. SUD is a disease that can alter certain areas of the brain over time. Recovery is more difficult for individuals who have gone for months or years with undiagnosed or untreated SUD.

Substance Misuse Affects the Entire Family

Whether you choose to acknowledge substance misuse or not, it has a direct effect on everyone within a family unit. You may have felt angry, scared, worried, or confused about what to do next. Uncertainty about how to approach the topic with your family member might have left you silent. Seeing a loved one in emotional and physical distress caused by addictive behaviors can increase your risk of developing a mental health disorder or trauma-related responses. 

Substance misuse affects everyone in the life of someone with SUD, and leaving it untreated increases the risk for the entire family. According to an article in The Journal of Behavioral Health Services and Research, “The substantial risks of untreated substance use have been well established, including high rates of physical and mental health morbidity and premature death.” Enabling or co-dependent relationships can cause significant harm even if they come from a place of love. Interventions or other forms of advocacy can help your family recover from SUD by addressing the unhealthy family dynamics involved.

Co-Dependency and Enabling Behaviors in Family Dynamics

Co-dependent and enabling behaviors can cause significant harm for someone struggling with substance misuse. Unfortunately, these behaviors can look different in various families and might be difficult to recognize. Perhaps you do not know how to identify that a relationship is unhealthy, but you can learn the warning signs and become better at spotting unhealthy dynamics.

Signs that you might be in a co-dependent relationship include:

  • Operating with a lack of healthy boundaries 
  • Having difficulty making decisions without consulting the other person
  • Making personal sacrifices to ensure the other person feels happy
  • Feeling overly responsible for the other person 
  • Feeling unworthy unless validating the other person
  • Feeling afraid or embarrassed to get help from “outsiders”

Signs that you may be in an enabling relationship include:

  • Making excuses and covering up unhealthy or maladaptive behaviors 
  • Assisting the other person in achieving unhealthy goals by providing them with money, free housing, or other resources
  • Protecting the other person from the consequences of their actions 
  • Avoiding conflict by pretending the problem does not exist or by minimizing the problem

When you are considering how healthy your family relationships are, remember that family dynamics fluctuate over time. Often the change to unhealthy dynamics is gradual, making it difficult to notice when enabling or co-dependent relationships begin to manifest. Recognizing the warning signs will help you know when to reach out for help.

How Do Enabling Behaviors Develop?  

You might not notice right away if you start enabling your family member’s substance abuse. According to an article in Social Work in Public Health, “Enabling is a form of accommodation that protects the individual with the SUD from fully experiencing the consequences of his or her substance use.” You might feel like you are doing things that protect your loved one. Yet, enabling behaviors are ultimately counterproductive because they shield people from fully experiencing the negative consequences of their actions that might motivate them to make better life choices. As a result, they are free to continue on the destructive path of substance abuse.

Enabling and other maladaptive behaviors generally develop from a desire to love and protect someone close to you. Unfortunately, in the long run, they cause harm. If you notice warning signs that you might be enabling your loved one, you should get help from a professional immediately. The health and safety of your loved one are at stake.

How to Support Your Loved One’s Recovery

You can assist your loved one in facing the realities of their addictive behaviors by educating yourself and locating local resources, including:

  • Treatment facilities 
  • Advocacy groups or organizations 
  • Sober living communities 
  • Self-help and 12-Step groups
  • Family support services 
  • Family therapists

Intervention services like those offered by A New Hope Recovery require individualized assessments to ensure all family members get the support they need to begin the recovery process. We operate on a case-by-case basis. If you feel like your loved one might require assistance understanding their need for life-saving treatment, you can reach out to us for referrals and assistance with setting up an intervention. 

You love your family and want to protect them from being in pain or feeling judged by others. Sometimes that instinct can lead to enabling behaviors that allow unhealthy and maladaptive coping mechanisms like substance misuse to continue. You cannot protect the people you love by sheltering them from the negative consequences of their own actions. Through inaction or active enabling, you may have unintentionally protected your family member from harsh realities that might have motivated them to make healthier life choices. You are not too late to help them heal and thrive in recovery. By reaching out to A New Hope Recovery, you can provide your loved one with various recovery options. We can provide family support, advocacy, referrals, and intervention services for families struggling with the effects of substance misuse. To learn more about how we can help, call us today at (407) 501-8490.