MARC Family Therapist Arielle Seidler, LCSW-C, oversees the family programming at Maryland Addiction Recovery Center, and works in conjunction with MARC Clinical Director Dr. Jennifer Richards and the primary therapists on the MARC clinical team to engage, coach, support and offer treatment to the families of MARC patients while their loved one is going through our program.
Here, Arielle details some important information regarding enabling behaviors and suggestions for family members of how to stop these behaviors that can be unhelpful to an addicted loved one.
Ways You May Be Enabling Your Loved One
The word “enabling” gets used frequently in addiction and recovery programs and, while it may seem like a straight-forward concept, there are many ways family members and friends may enable a loved one’s substance use disorder behaviors that are not so obvious. In fact, enabling your loved one frequently feels like helping the person who is struggling. However, the act of enabling actually allows someone to continue down a dangerous path related to addiction. It is especially problematic when interacting with someone who struggles with addiction because it can often offer them a green light to continue to engage in self-destructive behaviors. Below are the most common ways you may be enabling your loved one and what to do to stop.
This occurs when your addicted loved one tries to rationalize their behaviors and you go along with their explanations. A typical example might be: “I HAVE to smoke at night because I have a really bad sleep problem and I won’t be able to sleep without that” or “You know I hurt my back and because that doctor won’t prescribe me what I need I have to take something to be able to get out of bed in the morning”. Sometimes it can feel very convincing and hard to argue so you may believe their rationalizations and go along with them!
What to do about it: If you notice you are doing this, a good thing to remember is that your loved one DOES have other options. They just are not using them. It is not your job to find the solution for them but you can make it clear to them that these reasons are no longer valid and you will no longer go along with them. Using the examples above, you might respond by saying: “I know sleep has been hard for you and a sleep study or working with your doctor makes more sense to me than using a substance that was not specifically prescribed by a licensed physician for that problem” or “How about you work with a doctor or physical therapist to help your back as opposed to going to the streets for drugs”. Depending on your relationship with this person you could also use a boundary to let them know that this behavior will no longer be tolerated by you.
“Minimizing” is claiming that the person with the addicted person’s behavior is not “that bad”. This can be as prevalent when your loved one is in active addiction as it can be when they are in recovery but headed towards a relapse. Frequently family members become hyper-aware of a problem when their loved one is in a place of crisis. That time of crisis can be so emotionally draining that it is tempting to ignore the signs of another pending crisis. Sometimes you may also start to minimize the addicted person’s behavior because they may use their own tactics (manipulation, rationalizations, intimidation) to have you believe what you see happening is not a big deal.
What to do about it: Educate yourself on the signs of addiction and of relapse. Remember that you cannot control your loved one’s behaviors, but you can always call attention to what you are observing and state your boundaries. This communicates to your loved one that they cannot manipulate you and that you are going to stay true to your expectations of them and your boundaries with them.
“Participating” is engaging in the addictive behavior with the addicted person. Sometimes family members may engage in a problematic behavior with their loved one without necessarily realizing it is an issue. An example may be having a drink with your loved one because “alcohol was never their problem”. This type of behavior signals to your loved one that your boundaries may be porous and that you will not expect total abstinence from them. Engaging in the behavior with them will also make it harder to enforce a boundary with them in the future.
What to do about it: It is never too late to change your own behavior and set a boundary. You may also find by doing this that you are also struggling with some addictive tendencies. There is no shame in recognizing this and reaching out for your own help. It is more common than you think!
“Providing” is the most classically used example of enabling. Providing happens when you are giving material goods or services to the addicted person. This may include paying their bills, providing shelter, or taking care of their basic responsibilities. By doing these things you are inadvertently making their lives more comfortable so that they do not have to make changes in their lives.
What to do about it: A rule of thumb is not doing for your loved one what they could do for themselves. It is also helpful to remember that if you are doing something for them out of guilt or fear, it is likely that you are enabling by providing.
“Enduring” is the process of keeping feelings inside and avoiding conflict with your loved one. This tends to happen because you worry that by confronting your loved one you may trigger them to use or because you are too tired to engage. When you engage in “enduring”, you may be inadvertently signaling to your addicted loved one that their behavior is acceptable to you. You are also living under a false assumption that you can somehow control if they use or not. It is important to remember that confronting your loved one will not cause them to use substances. If they use a substance after a confrontation it is because they have made the decision to do that as opposed to deciding to do something different.
What to do about it: It is important to express your thoughts and feelings, set boundaries, and enforce them. It is possible to do this without escalating or becoming aggressive. Learning new ways to communicate with your loved one is imperative part of the healing process. Attending your own therapy, Al-anon or other family support groups, and family therapy are all designed to help you learn how to navigate these difficult conversations.
Addiction Treatment in Maryland
If you or someone you know needs help for addiction or co-occurring disorder issues, please give us a call. Maryland Addiction Recovery Center offers the most comprehensive dual diagnosis addiction treatment in the Mid-Atlantic area. If we aren’t the best fit for you or your loved one, we will take the necessary time to work with you to find a treatment center or provider that better fits your needs. Please give us a call at (410) 773-0500 or email our team at [email protected]. For more information on all of our drug addiction, alcohol addiction and co-occurring disorder services and recovery resources, please visit our web site at www.marylandaddictionrecovery.com.