How To Avoid Enabling A Friend’s Addiction

How To Avoid Enabling a Friend's Addiction

One of the most challenging parts of establishing and maintaining a friendship can be having to look out for each other during hard times.

When a friend faces a problem with substance abuse, finding the right way to support them can be confusing.

Often, friends will try to help each other with substance abuse problems, but because of the personal connection between the two parties, providing that help can be difficult.

The most obvious ways to ‘assist’ are often enabling behaviors. These enabling behaviors can be a detriment to the person facing substance abuse problems.

What Does It Mean To Be An Enabler?

The term “enable” means ‘to give someone the means to do something.’

When it comes to substance abuse and addiction, an enabler is a person who often unknowingly helps facilitate a friend or loved one’s addiction by removing any reason or incentive for the person facing addiction to change or attend a drug rehab center.

Enablers do not usually directly support their friend’s addiction and typically believe they are attempting to help the person dealing with it.

However, their actions actually make it harder for the person facing substance abuse problems to see why they need to change and attend a drug addiction treatment program.

Any consequences for their addiction are removed, along with the incentive for change.

Enabling does much more than just harm the person with substance abuse problems. Also, the enabler is suffering.

This is because addiction and enabling have a way of snowballing. When the person facing addiction becomes more and more involved in their addiction, the enabler must go to more extraordinary lengths to help their friend.

This can quickly jump from borrowing a few dollars and staying on the couch for a night to borrowing large amounts of money and needing a place to stay indefinitely.

Over time, the enabler becomes increasingly responsible for the person facing addiction, losing their independence.

How To Identify An Enabler

There are several ways to identify a person who is acting as an enabler. Some common behaviors of enablers may include:

Making excuses for the addiction or keeping the addiction a secret.

They will cover up for the person dealing with addiction in the name of friendship instead of trying to convince their friend to get help at a drug addiction treatment center.

Going to great lengths to avoid conflict with their friend dealing with addiction.

This is sometimes the cause of enabling. To remain non-confrontational, the enabler negates the addiction’s negative repercussions and removes any incentive for their friend to attend a drug rehab center.

Give their friend many chances.

Because of their enabling behavior, enablers often do not know how to enforce boundaries and go through with consequences.

This results in giving a friend many chances after they have caused a problem, instead of instigating negative consequences and encouraging them to attend a drug addiction treatment center.

Often, enablers are the people who care the most about the person facing addiction. Because of this, they may like feeling needed by the person dealing with substance abuse problems.

In extreme cases, enablers may go so far as to take part in dangerous or otherwise risky behaviors with the person facing addiction.

Enabling Behaviors

Here are some behaviors that enabling people may participate in:

1. Using drugs/alcohol with their addicted friend.

One of the most blatantly enabling behaviors is taking part in the substance abuse issues with a friend, for example smoking heroin with a friend in need of heroin addiction treatment.

This not only causes a problem for the friend dealing with substance abuse problems, but it also takes away part of their support system. When beginning the journey to recovery, a healthy, robust support system is vital.

Of course, taking heroin with someone who is addicted instead of trying to get them to attend heroin addiction treatment is a negative thing.

This is true even with legal substances, like alcohol. Either way, using with a friend who is dealing with substance abuse issues is never a good idea.

It sends the wrong message to the friend with substance abuse problems, making them think that their behavior is okay.

Instead, similar to attending heroin addiction treatment, they need to participate in an alcohol and drug addiction treatment program.

While it may seem as though having a drink together after work is a time for two friends to bond, this action can be incredibly damaging to the friendship as well as to both parties involved.

2. Taking over a friend’s responsibilities and/or finances.

While it may seem at first like doing a favor or two for a friend, one slippery slope is taking over a friend’s responsibilities while they are dealing with their substance abuse problems.

While it comes as no surprise that addiction can result in people giving up some of their responsibilities, it is rarely mentioned that often in situations like this, the family or friends of the person facing addiction will take over some of their friend’s responsibilities.

The specifics of the situation can change but typically involve a friend taking over daily chores, work, and even maintaining relationships with the family or children of the friend dealing with substance abuse.

It is easy to feel like this behavior is helpful at first, but it is only harmful to everyone involved in the end.

3. Covering up for a friend.

There are many reasons one may make excuses for a friend dealing with substance abuse problems. It may be out of frustration or embarrassment, but it may also be out of codependency.

For instance, covering up for a friend, so they don’t get in arguments with their family or other friends, or making excuses for more complicated situations, like work or when dealing with law enforcement.

Not only is it a bad idea for the person in need of a drug addiction treatment program, but it also risks hurting relationships with others.

4. Denial.

While not outright supporting the addiction, denial allows a friend or loved one to remain steadfast in their addiction because there are no consequences for them.

Acting as though there is no problem does nothing but reinforce the friend’s denial that they do not have a substance abuse issue.

There are many different ways to be in denial about a friend’s substance abuse. Blaming oneself for the addiction and ignoring the addiction altogether are both common forms of denial.

How to Stop Enabling a Friend

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1. Create boundaries:

When it comes to ending enabling behavior, it is vital to create boundaries with the friend facing addiction.

Being assertive and creating clear boundaries is a significant first step towards ending enabling behavior.

It tells the person facing addiction exactly what the enabling behavior will be stopping is and explaining the situation, so both parties understand why a drug addiction treatment program is needed.

The previously engaging person in enabling behaviors will have to be sure they are willing to stand firm with their boundaries.

They must also expect a friend facing addiction problems to test the boundaries that are put in place.

If, when tested, boundaries are not held firm, the incentive to get help for the addiction at a drug rehab treatment center once again dissipates.

2. Do not give in to threats:

When it comes to ending enabling behavior, the ex-enabler will likely face various threats from the person relying on them.

Addiction is a disease that sometimes makes people try to manipulate situations in their favor.

Threats are another attempt at manipulation. When enabling behavior stops, the friend dealing with a substance abuse problem will likely begin to panic.

To get enabling behaviors to resume, they will do whatever it takes, including various threats.

Again, it is essential not to give in to these threats as this gives the person dealing with addiction what they want: access to the substance to which they are addicted.

Threats generally are not carried out, and standing firm shows the friend facing addiction. The ex-enabler is serious.

3. Do not allow your well-being to suffer:

The person dealing with addiction will need a healthy support system to increase their chances of becoming and remaining sober.

By allowing one’s well-being to suffer to enable a friend, an enabler is doing a detriment to both of them.

While it may seem selfish to think of anyone before a friend dealing with substance abuse addiction, the best support system is one that is healthy themselves.

Practicing various forms of self-care can help keep up on personal well-being. Also, mindfulness practices can help a person’s mental state through tumultuous times.

4. Expect unreliability from the friend facing addiction:

When it comes to getting sober and maintaining sobriety, the road is anything but a straight line.

Thus, it is essential not to expect much reliability from a friend who is going through recovery.

Also, once previous enabling behaviors are stopped, the friend’s behavior may become even more erratic.

This is to be expected with someone trying to navigate recovery or still actively facing addiction. The person may begin to act aggressively or angrily, as they are unsure what to do now that they are no longer being enabled.

They likely also feel betrayed, causing more erratic behavior before the situation improves in the end.

5. Do not fear possible outcomes:

When ending enabling behavior, it is natural to think of the future and the relationship between the two parties.

While things may seem only to be going downhill at the time, it is vital not to assume the friendship will be ruined. This type of thinking may discourage enablers from stopping their behavior.

It is also important not to worry about what will happen if the enabling behavior is stopped.

While it may seem as though the friend will turn to worse options than being enabled, it is essential to remember that it is easy to jump to the worst conclusions.

In reality, enabling behavior does no good for the person facing addiction. Instead, they need to attend a drug rehab treatment center to get help for their addiction.

6. Get help:

While, of course, the end goal of avoiding enabling behavior is to maintain and even improve a friendship while the friend facing addiction attends a drug rehab treatment center, at first, things may not improve.

Despite this, the ex-enabler needs to go on with their own life. The situation may have resulted in the ex-enabler needing their help through various means, including group and one on one therapy.

Addiction is a disease that affects more than just the person dealing with the substance abuse problem.

Loved ones and friends can also be significantly affected, and they need the help of their own. It is just as vital that this help is received to help everyone involved.

The Choice Is Ultimately Theirs

Having a friend who is dealing with a substance abuse issue can be exceedingly tricky. It is easy for genuine concern and caring to turn into more unhealthy enabling behaviors as time progresses, which is detrimental to both friends’ health.

When it comes to having a friend with substance abuse issues, it is essential to remember that drug addiction treatment programs like heroin addiction treatment are the answer.

Drug rehab centers are specifically designed to help those dealing with substance abuse problems and should always be the goal when dealing with addiction.

Stopping enabling behavior, putting in place firm boundaries, and encouraging the attendance of a drug rehab treatment center are all pivotal moves on getting a friend on their journey to recovery.

This page does not provide medical advice

Written by Elevate Addiction Services | ©2020 Elevate Addiction Services | All Rights Reserved

Medically reviewed by

Tim Sinnott, LMFT LAADC

December 29, 2020

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