Enabling occurs when the friends and family of a substance user support the addiction through their thoughts
or behaviors. People who enable act as a cushion for addicts, preventing them from facing the consequences
of their substance abuse.
When family members enable their loved one’s
, they lose respect for themselves, and the substance user loses respect for them. Ignoring
the problem or engaging in enabling behaviors makes us lose self-respect because we know we’re not doing
the right thing.
Enabling not only creates a permissive attitude toward drug use, but also gives the addict no desire to seek
treatment. Enabled addicts lose faith in themselves and do not respect loved ones who make it easier for
them to continue using drugs.
Allison Walsh of Advanced Recovery Systems tells family members to always encourage their loved ones to seek treatment and to always avoid enabling behavior.
Signs of Enabling Behaviors from Family
Loved ones may enable the addict because they feel responsible for causing the substance use disorder. They often
blame themselves for the addiction and try to make up for it by sacrificing time, money and energy.
Family members make these sacrifices to reduce their loved one’s pain and suffering, but they often don’t realize
they’re engaging in enabling behaviors that are
barriers to recovery
Enabling behaviors come in many forms. By recognizing and ceasing these unhealthy behaviors, families can focus
on getting their loved one proper treatment.
Denial is one of the primary behaviors that families adopt when they learn that their loved one is
addicted to drugs
. They refuse to accept the reality that their family member has a substance use
problem. They convince themselves that treatment isn’t necessary and the addict will know how to control
their drug or alcohol use.
Justification and denial work hand in hand. Families often reject the problem, making up reasons to justify
their loved one’s addiction. For example, a family member may feel that it is fine for a loved one to
or drugs to cope after a stressful day at work. Parents may also believe the substance
use is only temporary and will stop after a change in lifestyle such as college graduation.
Allowing Substance Use
Family members may think that they are controlling the situation if they allow their loved one to use drugs
at home. They may even consume drugs or alcohol with the addict to manage their intake level and to make
sure they gravitate toward home when using instead of more dangerous locations.
Not expressing your concerns about addiction to a person you love gives them a reason to keep using. In some
cases, substance users dismiss their families’ fears by reassuring them that they will not consume drugs
or alcohol. When an addict dismisses these fears and concerns, it may encourage family members to keep
their feelings to themselves.
Avoiding the Problem
By ignoring the problem and not confronting the substance user, family members may feel that they are keeping
the peace in their home. Instead of getting their loved one proper treatment, the family focuses on keeping
up appearances to look normal.
Protecting the Family’s Image
stigma of substance use
is ever present. People may be ashamed of their substance-using family member,
leading them to portray the person in a falsely positive light to friends, co-workers and acquaintances.
Minimizing the Situation
People surrounding the addict may lighten the issue by convincing themselves that the substance user could
be in worse situations. They treat the addiction as a phase that will improve on its own with time and
Playing the Blame Game
Adopting negative attitudes toward substance users only pushes those struggling with addiction away. Blaming
or punishing individuals for their substance use alienates them from their family, which may result in
Family members may be inclined to take over the regular tasks and responsibilities of the addict in an effort
to prevent their life from falling apart. Instead, assuming responsibilities and providing money to the
substance user removes accountability and allows them to fully indulge in their addiction.
Exerting control on a substance user may worsen their addiction. Constantly treating the addict as an inferior
or placing numerous restrictions on their lifestyle may drive them further from the family unit and closer
to their substance-using peers.
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Enabling Patterns in a School Setting
Schools and colleges have strict drug and alcohol policies. However, even faculty members can enable substance
use among students.
- Not regulating places where students consume drugs or alcohol:
- Failure to supervise problem areas makes students think that they have a safe and uncontrolled space to engage in substance use.
- Not acknowledging money or drug exchanges on school grounds:
- Turning a blind eye to these behaviors enables students to carry out restricted activities without fearing consequences.
- Disregarding unacceptable behaviors in the classroom:
- Ignoring students when they openly admit to substance consumption or intoxication reinforces their substance using behaviors.
- Not reporting intoxicated students:
- Failing to discipline students or refer them to the schools’ student assistance programs delays them from getting the treatment they need.
- Not having specific rules against substance use:
- When there are no rules about drug use in the classroom or in the academic code of conduct, students may believe that there are no consequences for their actions.
- Counseling students without proper training:
- Teachers and staff who are not trained in
substance abuse counseling may be too lenient or too aggressive with students, hindering their potential
- Being in denial about a student:
- Denying that students with good academic or athletic performance would be involved in substance use delays timely treatment.
- Lowering expectations for some students:
- All students deserve equal treatment, including those struggling with a substance use disorder.
Faculty members may think that they are helping students by turning a blind eye on substance use, but they are
only making the situation worse. Once teachers and peers learn to recognize and cease their enabling behaviors,
they can encourage the substance user to seek appropriate treatment.
Addiction is a disease
that affects not only substance abusers, but their families.