enabling addiction

Time for Tough(er) Love: 6 Unhealthy Signs You’re Enabling Addiction

As more than 23 million Americans struggle with addiction, there are more than 23 million ways that each addiction is expressed. While we might each find that someone in our life is dealing with addiction, it’s important to know how to react. If we’re enabling addiction in our loved one, we’re not doing our loved ones the service that they’re entitled to.

Here are five ways that you might be enabling addiction.

1. Enabling Them Financially

When you’re dealing with a loved one who is struggling with addiction, one of the most common ways for people to enable that addiction is financial. Most people need to spend serious amounts of money on their addiction. Many people struggling with addiction will burn through all of their money and then seek funding from friends and loved ones.

Many people struggling with addiction will take the money they should spend on food and rent and use it for drugs. This puts their friends and loved ones in a precarious position. They might ask for money to help pay for these basic needs, but then end up using it for their addiction.

There’s no good way to tell when they’re going to spend their money on their necessities or on their addiction.

Watching someone who you love struggle is a challenging thing to go through. If you know they need money to survive and you have money you could give them, it’s tempting to help out. However, your money could end up enabling their addiction to thrive.

2. You’re Covering For Them

When the people who we love are struggling with addiction, we know that they’re more than the addiction they’re struggling with. When someone accuses them of abusing drugs or alcohol, we might want to step in and start rationalizing. If they make a mistake or do something thoughtless, many people are compelled to cover up for them.

We know who they are, so we’d never want anyone to think that they’re only defined by some bad things they’ve done. We also understand what they’re not present at family events or places where they’re required to be.

When someone is sick or intoxicated, they might forget about an event, to pick the kids up from school, or make up a story about their absence. When this happens, it’s important not to make excuses on their behalf. When you cover for them, you might allow them to stay in their addiction for longer.

It’s common for partners to call in sick to work on behalf of someone struggling with addiction. If this starts to happen, you know that you’re just enabling bad behavior.

3. Using Substances Together

When you’re dealing with someone who is struggling with addiction and you use drugs or alcohol with them, you let them know you’re generally okay with it. While you might know your own limits and how to control your relationship to the substance, you can’t speak on the addiction when you’re using.

If you use substances recreationally, that might be a way for you to connect with your loved one on their level. That can work in a way, but it doesn’t create conditions for you to help. In fact, you help to normalize the addiction and end up making the person with the addiction feel comfortable with their condition.

This is most common when people are struggling with alcohol. It’s such a common substance to be used in excess even recreationally. Rather than being apart from the rest of the world, drinking is done in the open, excessively, and even celebrated with games.

If your partner is struggling and you keep alcohol in your home, you’re allowing for temptation and triggers. If you drink around the person, you can compound the issue even more. It might lay the groundwork for them to think one drink is fine.

This kind of environment is toxic for people struggling with addiction and often makes addiction worse.

4. Getting Comfortable With Denial

After a certain amount of time, an addiction can start to become normalized. Friends and family will start to feel comfortable with the addiction to such an extent that they’ll change their own behavior. Addiction breeds denial in that it’s easy to ignore the most obvious signs.

At the beginning of an addiction, things that you’ll mark as red flags later will seem like hiccups or vaguely normal. This is a harmful perspective that can keep you from helping your loved one and getting them the help they need.

As a friend or a loved one, it’s hard to know where to begin after you’ve normalized the addiction along the way.

If you’ve tried bringing up the issue and haven’t been able to make any headway, it’s easy to want to give up. This is when most people start to embrace denial and when things can start to get out of hand. It’s hard to tell someone they have an addiction after they’ve just told you that they don’t.

5. Are You Taking the Blame?

Worse than covering for your friend or loved one is taking the blame for their behavior. If you’re caught saying “oh they’ve just had a long day” or have said “they only use because of the way I make them feel,” you’re taking the wrong approach.

You need to allow your friend or loved one to take the blame that’s owed to them. Just because you feel a part of their addiction doesn’t make you the cause.

Enabling Addiction is an Easy Trap to Fall Into

While we all think that we know how to be there for our friends and loved ones when they become ill, it’s hard to know what to do about addiction. It’s clear that we need to be there but have to draw hard limits. Letting your loved ones know where your limits are and not letting them breach those boundaries by enabling addiction is important.

While struggling to talk to your friends and loved ones, make sure you read our guide on the signs of overdose that could cause us to lose them.

About the Reviewer: Chris Barnes

Chris BarnesChristopher Barnes has worked in health care for over thirty years. He is a graduate of Alabama State University where he earned a double Bachelor of Science Degree in Social Work and Psychology in 1982. Christopher Barnes is currently the Director of Clinical services at The Discovery House where he has been employed for the past five years. Because of his extensive experience in health care & substance abuse he has an excellent rapport with constituents, clients, and other professional organizations in the counseling/social service community.