Top 8 Signs You’re Enabling an Alcoholic

July 15, 2021 | alcohol

Are you actively involved in your loved one’s journey to recovery? Or are you just dealing with it until the problem goes away? 

Unfortunately, it can be hard to tell whether you’re helping or enabling the addiction. Even if you don’t know it, your actions may be negatively contributing to the situation.

We understand that it can be hard to come to terms with a loved one’s alcohol addiction, and we’re not here to shame you for not knowing if you’re doing things the right way. However, we do want to give you a few tips to help you know a little more about how not to approach this situation.

What does enabling someone mean?

Enabling an addict means you’re giving someone the motivation they need to continue to use. Now, you might think enabling means that you’re encouraging an alcoholic to have another drink, but that’s not always the case. Any action that gives one motivation or leniency for using is considered enabling.

Examples of enabling 

Enabling often comes in the form of emotional motivators or by covering up for a loved one’s addiction. For example, something like scolding someone for their shortcomings might turn into an excuse to have another drink, or taking over their responsibilities might lead them to believe their situation isn’t all that bad.

Sometimes, enabling a loved one’s addiction can be on account of actions that you feel are insignificant or nonexistent. However, you must understand that addiction is complex and has a profound effect on the human mind. The person dealing with addiction can twist situations out of proportion to find a reason to use.

That is why proper communication is so important. It doesn’t mean living under the pressure of trying to make sure every last word or action is perfect but neglecting to communicate your concerns can be considered another form of enabling because of this factor.

Signs of enabling an alcoholic

As we said, we’re not here to talk about what you should be doing. Instead, we want to give you advice on what not to be doing. That’s because knowing the wrong choices often helps to make the right decisions much easier to make.

Below you will find eight examples of enabling and explanations of how these actions might create a reason for an alcoholic to continue to drink:

  1. Ignoring the problem: By ignoring things, you paint the image that the situation isn’t all that bad. This can lead an alcoholic to continue drinking as they are not made aware that things have gone too far. 
  2. Taking part in their actions: Alcohol is a socially used substance. We aren’t saying that you should punish yourself for another’s actions, but you need to be careful about doing so. If you’re part of a person’s support system and are out drinking all of the time or dealing with your own personal struggles, you need to be aware that it may harm their recovery as well. 
  3. Blaming others: You should never shift the blame. Even if life events or other people’s actions have been adverse, an alcoholic should never feel as though someone else picked the bottle up for them. This only turns into fuel for the addiction. 
  4. Lying about the matter: Whether you’re trying to protect your loved one or ashamed of the situation, you should never lie about addiction. Otherwise, it can help the addict to live in a false reality where their actions have no consequences. 
  5. Handling their hardships: Just like lying, handling hardships creates a false reality. By making excuses, taking over personal responsibilities, or even offering financial support, you can be enabling the addiction. 
  6. Failing to express your emotions: You must express your concerns and emotions regarding addiction. Otherwise, the addict will likely live under the idea that their alcoholism only affects them and that the situation isn’t all that bad. 
  7. Avoiding involvement: You might feel that you can’t adequately handle the situation altogether and opt to abandon the person because of it. In doing so with no explanation, you may cause emotional harm that leads to continued substance abuse. However, If you do set boundaries and they continue to use despite your promise to leave on account of drinking, then you must follow through. 
  8. Being too harsh: It is easy to let your emotions run high, leading to an exchange of harsh words and a series of ill-willed actions against the addict. While you should never lie about what you’re feeling, it’s important to remain supportive as negative actions can be a form of enabling. 

How can you be compassionate without enabling?

As we know, communication is key. It can be hard to strike a balance, though. Being overly compassionate or not compassionate enough can lead an addict to believe the situation isn’t something they can help or that it’s not that bad at all. So, how do you approach the situation?

The key is, to be honest, and clear about your concerns without making excuses or giving the person any reason to believe that the situation is on account of another person’s actions or that it’s nothing to be concerned with. You don’t want to understate the urgency of getting better or that there will be consequences to their actions.

It can be hard to tell whether or not you’re enabling. After all, nobody expects you to know everything about addiction, especially if you’re not personally struggling with addiction. 

One thing to not rule out is that you may need help yourself, which is precisely why addiction treatment centers offer group therapy sessions and possibly even one-on-one sessions with loved ones of an addict. These are great tools that you have at your disposal as professionals can provide sound advice on how the situation should be handled and what you should or should not be doing to help reach recovery.