How to Limit Enabling Behaviors Toward a Loved One in Addiction Recovery

As a loved one of someone in recovery from substance use disorder (SUD), you may feel compelled to support them in any way possible. While there are many things you can do to empower their recovery, you also have to ensure you are minimizing enabling behaviors. Despite the appearance of being helpful, enabling behaviors can actually hinder your loved one’s recovery progress and even contribute to a relapse. Thus, learning what enabling behaviors are and how to best avoid them plays a key role in the success of your loved one’s recovery.

At 12 South Recovery, we specialize in the treatment of SUD, mental health disorders, and co-occurring disorders. We recognize the value of social support provided by friends, family members, and other loved ones during addiction recovery. That’s why we provide family therapy and involve family members in the recovery process when possible. Limiting enabling behaviors is one of the many things that family members can learn in family therapy to best support their loved one’s recovery.

What Are Enabling Behaviors?

The U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) explains:

Sometimes family members help, rescue, support, or protect their loved one from facing the negative consequences of their substance use. For example, giving them money, lying for them, or paying their bills. These are called “enabling behaviors” or “enabling.”

In other words, enabling behaviors involve any actions or behaviors that prevent your loved one from facing the negative consequences of their substance use. Although these actions are generally well-intended, they teach your loved one that you will always be available to rescue them when times get tough.

In addition to paying their bills or covering for them, some other examples of enabling behaviors include:

  • Ignoring your loved one’s issues with substance use
  • Obtaining, supplying, or providing alcohol and other drugs for your loved one
  • Allowing your loved one to live in your home rent-free
  • Paying for your loved one’s expenses while they remain unemployed
  • Bailing them out of jail
  • Placing important responsibilities (including self-care practices) on hold to focus your time and energy on your loved one’s recovery
  • Refusing to follow through with boundaries and expectations

Why Is Ignoring My Loved One’s Issues With Substance Use an Enabling Behavior?

Perhaps your loved one has not yet begun their addiction recovery journey. Your loved one, like many others, may remain in the contemplation stage of change for quite some time before they accept and admit their need for help. During this time, however, it is crucial that you do not ignore or deny any warning signs they may be exhibiting that would otherwise indicate the presence of SUD.

By ignoring your loved one’s issues with substance use, you are enabling their continued drug and alcohol use. Now, on the one hand, you may think this is a stretch. However, since they do not want to accept that they have a problematic relationship with alcohol and other drugs, your loved one will continue to engage in the behavior under the impression that no one will call them out on their use. Whether you are a friend, romantic partner, sibling, parent, or other loved one, there is no question that you want the best for them in their healing journey. However, by ignoring that they have a problem, you are contributing to their continued misuse.

How Common Are Enabling Behaviors?

One study from the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment administered a clinical assessment tool to 42 individuals struggling with alcohol abuse and their partners who were both enrolled in a couples counseling program. Further, the study aimed to determine the extent of partners’ enabling behaviors, suspected to reinforce drinking or hinder recovery. The results of the study are as follows:

Results indicated that, among other findings, the majority of both clients and partners reported the partner took over chores or duties from the alcoholic client at some point during the relationship, drank or used other drugs with the client, and lied or made excuses to others to cover for the drinker.

In response to the study’s results, researchers suggest that efforts to treat and understand alcohol dependence “will be more productive if partner behaviors are incorporated into assessment and intervention procedures.” To conclude, this study confirms that enabling behaviors are a shared experience, especially among intimate partners of those struggling with substance abuse. The study also highlights the value of family therapy and other family-oriented interventions in helping loved ones secure lasting sobriety and recovery.

Limiting Enabling Behaviors

Preventing enabling behaviors toward a loved one in recovery from SUD first requires that you recognize that doing so is the utmost action you can take to support your loved one’s recovery. Your loved one may not see it the same way. However, with time and healing, they will come to recognize you are taking actions out of love and genuine concern for them.

Once you accept your need to limit enabling behaviors, consider taking the following steps to implement new boundaries and expectations toward your loved one in recovery:

  • Avoid partaking in substance use of any kind around your loved one (especially as they navigate early recovery)
  • If your loved one lives with you, explain that you will be requesting rent in the near future, allowing them some time to secure employment
  • Set your loved one up with a financial advisor to help with money management
  • Verbalize new boundaries and expectations to your loved one while allowing them the opportunity to voice their concerns
  • Work with your loved one to create consequences if boundaries are broken

Moreover, at 12 South Recovery, we can provide individual therapy, group therapy, and family programs to help you as you attempt to eradicate enabling behaviors toward your loved one.

If you have a loved one struggling with substance abuse, it is crucial to identify any prevalent enabling behaviors and avoid them in the future. Perpetuating enabling behaviors can hinder your loved one’s recovery and contribute to future relapse. Thus, you can limit enabling behaviors by expressing your concerns, setting firm and clear boundaries, and working together to create consequences when boundaries are broken. Moreover, you can also consider participating in a family program or other treatment programs offered by 12 South Recovery. Our staff believes in the power of individualized care as well as including the family in the recovery process. Learn more by calling us at (888) 830-8374 today.

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