If you have a loved one who has a substance or alcohol use disorder, you have likely heard that you may be an enabler. Al-Anon is an excellent organization that helps loved ones of people with alcohol use disorders not only deal with a loved one’s alcohol abuse, but also address the role loved ones play in facilitating this behavior.
How do you know if you are an enabler or if what you are doing is helping normally? How can you stop when you realize you were an enabler? If you are unsure, this quiz may be helpful to see if you enable it.
It is important to learn the difference between activating and helping. Once you realize that you are an enabler, there are some handy tips and examples you can read about how to keep a person with an alcohol abuse problem from being activated.
Activate vs help
Many times, while trying to help, friends and family members actually make the situation worse by allowing a person who is abusing alcohol (e.g., giving them the wrong kinds of gifts that may enable their addiction)...
What is activation?
Activation is defined as doing things for a person with an alcohol problem that they normally could and would do for themselves if they were sober. In contrast, helping means something that the alcoholic could not or would not do for himself if he were sober. Helping does not protect a person from the consequences of their actions.
Everything you do does Protecting the alcoholic or addict from the consequences of their actions could allow them to delay a decision in order to get help with their problem. It is in their best interests if you stop doing what you are doing to activate them. Activating does not help.
How to stop drug or alcohol abuse activation
You may at this point realize that you made alcoholism possible for your loved ones (although you probably thought you were going to help) and wonder how you can change yourself. In some ways, learning to stop allowing another person to abuse drugs or alcohol can be very helpful.
It can be helpful to remember that only you can change yourself can Change your behavior and your reactions to these people. Here are some practical ways you can stop being an enabler today.
Support for recovery efforts
Let the alcoholic deal with the consequences
Excuse the alcoholic
Take personal responsibility
Protect from legal consequences
End actions that allow the behavior to continue
Do you work and pay some of the bills the alcoholic would pay if he hadn’t lost his job or didn’t miss time from work due to drinking? Or do you provide food and shelter for that person?
If so, you could enable it. They provide them with a “safety net” that allows them to lose or skip their job with no real consequences.
Don’t do things that you can do yourself
If the person with a drinking problem has lost their license, drive them to an A.A. meeting or job interview because they can’t do that for themselves. These are things that the person cannot do on their own. So if you can help them, you can aid their recovery efforts.
On the other hand, looking up the schedule of meetings in the area, researching license recovery requirements, or searching the classifieds for employment opportunities are examples of activation. These are all things people should do for themselves.
Have you ever had this conversation: “Sorry, you can’t come to work today, you caught some kind of flu virus?” when are you actually too hungover to go to work? This conversation makes it possible because it enables the alcoholic to avoid the consequences of his or her actions.
You could say, “But you could lose your job!” Losing their job could be exactly what has to happen in order for them to decide to get help.
Don’t take responsibility
Are you doing some of the house chores that the person with the drinking problem used to do? Have you and your children assumed responsibility for the parents you both shared in the past?
If you do something that the alcoholic would do if they were sober, you are in a way allowing them to evade their responsibilities.
Do not borrow money
If for some reason you are providing money to someone with an alcohol use disorder, you can also go to the liquor store and buy their alcohol for them. And yes, buying alcohol for someone with drinking problems makes it possible. That’s what you ultimately do when you give money to someone, no matter what they say they mean to do with the money.
Don’t save them from legal problems
Rushing to save someone may satisfy a personal desire that you must feel “needed”, but it doesn’t really help the situation. It only enables the alcoholic to avoid the consequences of his or her actions.
In Al-Anon they call it “putting pillows under them” so that they never feel the pain of their mistakes.
Don’t scold, argue, or plead
You may think that berating or berating a person for their latest episode is far from activating, but it could actually be. If the only consequence they experience for their actions is a little “verbal beating” from someone who cares, they can slip by without facing any noteworthy consequences.
Do not react
Avoid reacting to the latest mishaps. If you say or do something negative in response to the other person’s recent mistake, they may respond to your reaction. If you stay calm or continue your life as if nothing happened, there will be nothing left to react to other than their own actions.
If you react negatively, give them an emotional air. Stay calm and avoid blowing up or reacting emotionally to the situation.
Do not try to drink with them
It is not uncommon for family members to feel abandoned by loved ones because of their alcohol abuse. One reaction some people have is trying to get back into their world by drinking with the person who has a drinking problem. It rarely works. The individual’s relationship with alcohol is strong. “Normal drinkers” can rarely keep up.
Set limits and stick to them
To say, “If you don’t stop drinking, I’ll go!” is an ultimatum and a threat, but saying “I won’t drink in my house” sets a limit. You cannot control whether or not someone stops drinking, but you can decide what kind of behavior in your life you will or will not accept.
Explain your limits
One thing members learn from Al-Anon is that they no longer have to accept unacceptable behavior in their lives. You may not be able to control another person’s behavior, but a choice is yours as to what you find unacceptable.
Boundary setting is something you do to your advantage so as not to try to control another person’s behavior. To do this effectively, it helps to loosen up to a certain extent. Relieving means letting go of another person’s alcohol problem and looking at the situation more objectively.
When you stop being an enabler
Often times, when an activation system is removed, fear will force a person with an alcohol use problem to seek help, but there are no guarantees. This can be extremely difficult to accept.
Take some time to learn about the enabling and family disease of alcoholism by attending an Al-Anon meeting near you. It can also be helpful to learn more about the resources and information that are available for families affected by alcoholism.
When you visit Al-Anon in person, when you stop activating you will feel more empowered and less alone. Unfortunately, neither of us can control what another is going to do.
However, we have the power to set boundaries and to respect our own lives. Consider 10 things you shouldn’t be doing when you love an alcoholic that can help you regain your own life whether or not your alcoholic gives up drinking.
If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use or addiction problems, contact the National Drug Abuse and Mental Health Authority (SAMHSA) helpline at 1-800-662-4357 Information about support and treatment facilities in your area.
You can find additional mental health resources in our National Helpline Database.