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Enabling

By: Roger J. Gregoire, CAC

Enabling, as it applies to the disease of addiction, can be defined as doing for someone, in an attempt to help, those things they could or should be doing for themselves, thus actually making it easier for them to continue in the progression of the disease.

For a variety of reasons many families may be enabling addictive behavior and not realize it. Often the action of enabling may be borne out of caring or feeling a need to protect the alcohol-dependent loved one. For example, someone is not able to get up in the morning for work or school for reasons relating to alcohol or drug misuse, other members of the family call in "sick" for him/her.

The loved ones make excuses for the alcohol-dependent person's rude or offensive behavior in public or social gatherings or avoiding such gatherings altogether. Buying alcohol to keep the alcohol-dependent person at home to avoid driving drunk and getting stopped for DUI, or worse causing an accident is another way of enabling. It may be a difficult task to try to stop enabling behavior because it may have become deeply ingrained in the relationship. The alcohol-dependent person may become very manipulative and demanding, putting other family members on the defense. These may be the signs of developing codependent relationship.

The loved one should first begin to identify enabling or protecting behavior and start to make changes.1 These consist of not nagging or pleading with the drinker to stop, but making clear the disapproval of the alcohol misuse. Detaching from the drinker's manipulative demands but being available if the alcohol-dependent truly wants help and are willing to take the steps s/he can only take.

It is painful to have to witness a loved one continue to engage in destructive behavior and to not directly enable or protect him/her. Still, it may be the only way to get that person to face their disease.

"Science and experience both tell us that if the drinker is not required to take responsibility for the negative consequences of their drinking, unwanted behavior is unlikely to change... If you really want them to improve, if you really want to help the drinker, you must stop protecting them." 2

References

  1. Buddy T. Enabling. About.com: Alcoholism and Substance Abuse. http://alcoholism.about.com/cs/info2/a/aa052197.htm
  2. Meyers, R.J./ Wolfe, B.L. Get Your Loved One Sober: Alternative to Nagging, Pleading, and Threatening. Hazelden PES, p.118 (2004)

This page was last modified on : 10/28/2013

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