Maintaining a healthy relationship with an addict can be the most difficult of all relationships. We want the best for our loved one, but what is best for them? It’s human nature to want to help, to do things for our loved ones, and to help them “get better.” We want them to make better choices. The wanting and hoping for healthier life choices is natural, we love them!
Doing things to cover up, or excuse, a loved one’s behavior is called “enablement.” We enable poor choices and therefore, unintentionally continue the progression of the illness of addiction. We enable and interfere by making choices for that person. We watch and hover, hoping to stop destructive behavior. It is well known that addiction is a family disease affecting everyone. If one person is having issues, everyone is having issues—in overt and covert ways.
Enablement is a behavior that treats the person as a child, interrupting their own path to recovery. “I just helped do her dishes...again”. “I called his boss to tell him he would be late to work...again.” “There were no groceries in his apartment so I stocked the fridge...again.”
Enablement, while coming from a place of love, puts us in a parental, or savior, role. We know people have to make their own choices for recovery. As the family or friend of an addict, we have to make our own choices, too. While a person’s choices may conflict with our hopes for them, enablement
is absent of dignity and respect. This is their story and their journey. You are not responsible for their drinking, drugging, gambling or other addictive behavior. You can offer options you feel helpful, but you can’t make a person decide that is the best decision.
The healthiest way to support a person with an addiction is hold true to your values, have healthy boundaries which clearly define what you will and won’t tolerate, and take care of yourself. It is one of the most difficult dynamics to have in a relationship. Remember, you didn’t cause it, you can’t control it, and you certainly can’t cure it. Offer professional help to your loved one, like therapy or a rehabilitation program. Seek help for yourself. Talk to someone supportive. Take care of yourself.
Rachel Rubenstein, LCSW is a Psychotherapist with offices in Scottsdale and Mesa, Arizona. She specializes in treating Adolescents and Young Adults, Friends & Family of Addicts, Divorce Issues and “Life-itis”, navigating everyday issues many of us have in Life. You may reach Rachel at (480) 994-9773, Rachel@RRCounseling.com or www.rrcounseling.com.