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Are you an enabler?

If you have to ask…

People only ask this question because they believe that have at least some evidence to demonstrate that they are an enabler. People who are not enablers typically know that they are doing everything in their power to prevent, or at least discourage addiction.

Enabling an addict is a difficult thing to tackle. Typically enablers do what they do BECAUSE they love the addict. There are a myriad of reasons why, but it all boils down to they are doing the best they know how to do.

Why do people enable?

We don’t grow up being taught what enabling looks like. We have this notion in our society that love should always be self-sacrificing and serving the ones we love. But oftentimes, the best way to actually serve someone we love is to tell them “no!”

How do you know if you are an enabler?

Here is a quiz from Dr. Phil that might help (I have highlighted in red the ones I consider to be the biggest warning signs that you might be an enabler:

An enabler is a person who, acting out of a sincere sense of love, loyalty and concern, steps in to protect, cover up for, make excuses for and become more responsible for the chemically dependent person. This can prevent the addicted individual from a crisis that might bring about change, and thereby prolong his or her illness.

To find out if you may be an enabler, answer the following questions:

  1. Do you avoid potential problems by trying to keep the peace? Do you do whatever you can to avoid conflict because doing so will solve problems?
  2. Are you in denial about your loved one being addicted? Do you think his or her drug or alcohol use is just a phase and isn’t anything to be concerned about?
  3. Do you have a hard time expressing your feelings? Do you keep all your emotions inside?
  4. Do you minimize the situation? Do you think the problem will get better later?
  5. Do you lecture, blame or criticize the chemically dependent person?
  6. Do you take over the responsibilities of the addicted person? Do you cover for and pick up his or her slack to minimize the negative consequences? Do you repeatedly come to the rescue — bailing him or her out of jail, out of financial problems or other tight spots?
  7. Do you try to protect your addicted loved one from pain?
  8. Do you treat him or her like a child? Do you enjoy taking care of your loved one and feel superior when you do? Do you still financially support him or her, even though he or she is an adult?
  9. Do you try to control the dependent person?
  10. Are you good at just enduring? Do you often think, this too shall pass?
  11. Do you believe in waiting? That God will take care of this?
  12. Do you give him or her one more chance, then another and yet another?
  13. Do you join him or her in the dangerous behavior, even when you know he or she has a problem?

If you answered yes to even one of these questions, you may have enabling behaviors, which could be making the addicted person sicker. Educate yourself about addiction and find support for families of addicts.

So what now?

Well, now is the hard part. Now you have to break the pattern of enabling that sometimes goes back years or even decades. If you don’t get but one concept out of this, PLEASE catch this.

Love does what is BEST for the person, not what makes them happiest. And love sometimes has to allow (maybe even cause suffering) to bring about TRUE healing!

Examples of tough love

This is NOT a blame game, but I need to share from my past to give you an example.

I might have hit rock bottom sooner if…

  • I had been turned over to the police for the things I stole from my family
  • I had not been allowed to have power, gas, food, clothes or anything else because I blew all my money on drugs
  • I had not been bailed out of jail
  • I had been denied a place to stay
  • Phone numbers had been changed
  • Family members had completely cut me off

This will not be over quickly

This will probably be one of the hardest things you’ve ever done. It will hurt your heart a great deal. But keep in mind that true love does what’s BEST for the addict, not what makes them happiest. You may very well save their life by allowing them to be in a situation with no escape but to ask for, or forced to find, help. You cannot be swayed by our tears, our sad stories, our problems (real or imagined), what we think about you, what others think about you, or what you FEEL.

The bottom line

To enable an addict is to watch them load the gun to play Russian roulette, while you hand them the bullets for the gun. You may not pull the trigger, but you’re still responsible. Take away their ammunition. If they find some other way around it, at least you did everything you could possibly do to prevent it. And if you believe someone you love is struggling with addiction PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE call the Home of Grace TODAY and see about getting the addict some help. Then you’ve not only refused to give them ammunition, you’ve also tried to remove the gun from their hands!

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  1. Greg,
    Thank you for your blogs. This is the first time I’ve ever been on this site, so I’m not sure if this gets to you. I am a Mother of two addicted adults, and have questions that I would like to ask you regarding enabling. I do not want to hinder by man’s hand a plan that may be in process as an orchestration of God’s healing at work. This is what my question pertains to. Can you email me? Thank you. Cindy

    • Thank you Cindy. I do receive notifications when there are comments. I’d be more than happy to try to answer any questions that you have. I am not a professional, however, i was an addict for a long time. I do understand addiction, what makes it tick, and recovery. I will also send you an email but my email is feel free to ask anything you’d like. I will do my best to answer. Thank you for reading and for reaching out.

  2. We are in great need of someone to sit down with our family and our son to let him know of our seriousness of turning him loose from our house hold. Ten years with no lasting results to speak of is exhausting. We need professional guidance.

    • Thank you for your willingness to share your painful journey. I am not a professional. I’m just an addict in recovery. I cannot speak to your specific situation but i can comment in a general sense. Addicts only understand clearly defined, and enforced boundaries. The line in the sand cannot be moved. When an expectation is communicated, it must be accompanied by a consequence. If you do this, then this will happen. If you don’t do this, then this will happen. When they do, or don’t do whatever it is, then the communicated consequence has to follow, without hesitation. While i think it would be advisable for your family to sit down with a professional, it is not required for you to communicate expectations (with accompanying consequences) and then enforce those consequences if the expectations are not met. i will certainly be praying for your family.

  3. Samaritan Works is a Christian based Recovery Home in Shelby County, Ohio where heroine and meth addiction has taken a heavy toll on our town. I love your blog on enabling. Could I use your material to spread the words to parents in our area.? Thank you.

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