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How to Love an Addict Without Being an Enabler

It is easy to fall into the trap of enabling an addict. It feels like love, but enabling only harms the addict and your relationship with him. If you love an addict, you can be supportive, loving and caring without enabling the addiction and the addictive behaviors. The first step is to recognize whether you are an enabler. From that awareness, you can learn how to take steps to support and love your addict without encouraging his habit.

Are You an Enabler?

What does it mean to enable someone? It doesn’t necessarily mean taking active steps to help someone continue his or her addiction. An obvious enabler, for instance, would be a drug dealer, the person supplying an addict. Loved ones are typically more subtle enablers. You do things or say things, or fail to do or say things, that perpetuate the addiction and negative behaviors in the one you love. You take away the consequences of his negative behaviors. Here are some examples of enabling: 

  • You make excuses to other people when he fails at his responsibilities.
  • You give him money, which you say is for food or rent, but which you know will not necessarily be used that way.
  • You take care of things that he is supposed to handle, but can’t, such as doing his homework, getting his work done or picking up a child from school.
  • You give him a place to crash when his roommate kicked him out for being high or drunk.

Stop Enabling, but Keep Loving

For many loved ones of addicts, enabling seems like caring and loving. It feels like you are helping him by taking care of the responsibilities that he can’t handle at the moment or by giving him a safe place to sleep at night. By taking away the consequences of his addiction, you are removing any incentive for him to get help. Not doing these things might seem like you are being mean or uncaring, but you can stop enabling while still loving your addict. Here’s what you need to do: 

  • Stop cleaning up. Don’t clean up your addict’s messes. Let him see the consequences of his actions. He may not understand it now, but explain that you want him to see the mess so that he can choose to get better.
  • Provide food but not money. It is hard not to help out financially when you see someone you love struggling, especially if that person is your child. You don’t want him to starve, so provide food. Don’t give him money, though. He very well may choose drugs over food.
  • Instead of a bed, give him a homeless shelter. You don’t want your loved one to starve or to sleep on the street. But, if you bail him out every time he needs a bed, you are enabling his choices. The next time he asks to crash, drive him to a shelter instead.
  • Offer positive support. Money, a place to sleep and cleaning up his messes are not positive ways to support an addict. Helping him to get help is. Every time you see him, make sure he knows that you will start to support him financially again if he wants to go to rehab or therapy. That is loving support.

Loving an addict is tough. You hate to see him suffer. You hate to see the consequences of his actions, but cleaning up after him and giving him what he needs to keep using isn’t love. It’s enabling. You can still love him and support him without enabling. Take a good look at your actions and decide if you need to make some changes.

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