If a loved one is struggling with substance use disorder it is a painful experience that often leaves you feeling powerless. You may instinctually want to fix things and may have the core belief that you can love them through to the other side where they will surrender and ask for help. Substance use disorder is challenging, and when it comes to recovery you can’t want it more than someone wants it for themselves. Television shows have perpetuated the idea that if we can simply push loved ones into seeking treatment they will get well, and while there’s no telling what those success rates are, the best thing for someone with substance use disorder is for them to decide for themselves that they are ready. Until such a time comes for your loved one, it’s natural to love and support them in the healthiest way possible, but at what point does that support cross over into enabling?
What Side of the Line Are You On?
It can be difficult to tell the difference between the two concepts, but this is mostly due to the emotional attachment that can be a considerable factor when your loved one is in turmoil. In the simplest of terms, support is helping someone do something that they could do themselves in the right conditions, while enabling is stepping in and mitigating consequences that would otherwise be a result of negative choices. For someone with a substance use disorder, if the need to deal with the negative consequences of their substance use and the resulting behavior is taken away, there will be no need to make changes. The reason that the line is “invisible,” especially for someone who is close to the individual with a substance use disorder, is that as the illness progresses over time and their needs become greater, there is a desire to provide more support, more love, and more safety for them. No one wants to see someone they love and care for suffer. However, as behaviors become enabling, there is greater potential for your loved one to suffer for a longer period of time with their disorder, as there is no need to turn for help..
How to Tell the Two Apart
If you feel that you are on the wrong side of the line between support and enabling, or you feel that you are too close to it, there are questions you can ask yourself to help you determine if you are helping or harming.
- “Am I compromising my own morals, abilities, well-being or other?”
Have you ever loaned a loved one money that you knew would not be repaid? Or taken an action that you object to for the sake of helping them? Do the actions you take for your loved one later cause you sadness, anger, or anxiety?
- “Do I make excuses for the behavior of my loved one?”
Do you find yourself justifying their behavior to yourself or others? Have you had to turn a blind eye to repeated negative behaviors they engage in?
- “Are the questions I am not willing to ask or behaviors I am not willing to point out for fear of their reaction?”
Have you tried to bring up unhealthy habits, behaviors or consequences and been met with an angry or aggressive response? Have you seen behaviors take place that you were unwilling to confront your loved one with? Do you know they are taking part in things you object to but are in fear of saying something?
- “Have I lied about or hidden things I have done for my loved one from others?”
Have you helped your loved one without the knowledge of another because you were aware they would object? Do you protect them from being viewed negatively by others?
If you answered yes to any of these questions you have crossed over the line from supporting into enabling. This does not mean that you cannot step back onto the side of support and set boundaries with your loved one that is struggling with a substance use disorder. Seek the support of your own family and friends or even a professional if needed.
A Progressive Illness
The most important person to consider in any balance between support and enabling is yourself. That is not to say that you need to stop giving reasonable love and support to your loved one that is suffering, but that caring for yourself and your mental well-being should be of utmost importance. Substance use disorders progress with time, and most find that the more that they give in order to “fix” a person, or situation, the more that is eventually taken. Your loved one is ill and many of these negative actions are beyond their control, so continuing to treat them with love and kindness is important. There are healthy ways to support someone who is struggling with substance use, and what that looks like for you is a personal journey. Seek guidance from others who have been through it in the form of support groups and be ready to assist your loved one when they decide they are ready to seek treatment and find recovery. Finding the balance is the most loving thing you can do.
Ashley Addiction Treatment believes that connection is the key to recovery, with treatment oAshley Addiction Treatment is an innovative treatment program located on Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. Ashley provides support for professionals seeking help with addiction. We are able to help people with co-occurring disorders and offer confidential treatment programs to meet your needs. Please reach out to us today at (800) 799-4673.