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With addiction, there are many blurred lines. When a loved one is struggling with addiction or substance use disorder (SUD), it can often be hard to find the line between supporting them and enabling them. It pains us to see someone we love struggling, and we want to help them. It’s a natural response to have for those that we love. Enablers only want to help, but codependency only perpetuates the issue: addiction. 

Healthy support should demonstrate boundaries and expectations so that our loved ones can begin the hard work of recovery. As we recognize and discourage codependency, our loved ones can recognize the severity of addiction and begin on the path toward healing. 

Signs of Codependency and Enablement

In order to move away from codependency and enablement, we must first understand what it looks like. Recognizing these patterns and identifying solutions is the first step in implementing healthier practices in our lives and relationships. 

#1. Shielding a Loved One From Consequences

Addiction has many consequences. These can be financial, emotional, physical, and more. When we love someone, it’s natural for us to want to shield them from adverse consequences. We don’t want to see them in pain, and if we’re able to help them, we often do. However, by shielding a person from the consequences of addiction, they’re likely not fully understand the need for recovery. 

For example, if our loved one spends too much money on substances and is unable to pay rent, our natural response may be to spot them this month. In doing this, however, we’re saving them from the consequences of their addiction. Perhaps defaulting on rent could provide the wake-up call necessary for them to enter recovery. It may feel cruel to withhold support when we have the physical means to support them. However, sometimes people need to feel the full consequences of addiction to understand the gravity of it.

#2. Hiding Your Loved One’s Addiction

When our loved one admits to us that they have a problem, many complicated emotions can come up. Embarrassment, guilt, and shame are a few of these emotions. Our loved one may ask us to keep the issue to ourselves due to their own embarrassment, or we may feel pressured to hide it because of ours. Regardless of the reason, it’s important to draw our own conclusions about who should or shouldn’t be privy to this information. 

For example, an old friend from high school likely doesn’t need to know about your loved one’s addiction. Other family members or spouses, however, may have a right to know. If we keep the secret, we’re again shielding our loved one from the consequences of addiction. Difficult conversations with loved ones are part of addiction, and they should live that experience. 

Additionally, our loved ones may ask us not to discuss things they did while under the influence. This could include anything from reckless behavior, driving under the influence, or violent actions. Regardless, if we’re physically safe to do so, we should address these issues when possible. Even if they were done under the influence, they should be held accountable for their actions. If they understand the ways that their actions are affecting those they love, they may be more likely to take a look in the mirror. 

This can be a very delicate situation, and more support may be necessary. Again, our feelings should be accounted for, but so should our loved ones that still deserve respect and discretion. Consider joining an anonymous support group for loved ones of people struggling with addiction for more guidance. 

#3. Setting Boundaries and Not Enforcing Them

When we set boundaries and expectations, it’s important that we follow through on them. If we set boundaries and allow our loved ones to walk all over us, it sets the precedent that our feelings don’t matter, and we will continue to support reckless behavior. Our loved ones have to understand that there are consequences for their behaviors, even if they’re struggling with addiction. By setting clear expectations and following through on consequences, we can hold our loved ones accountable for their actions. 

#4. Making Excuses

An unfortunate fact of life is that stress and external factors can push us toward substances. What once was a destresser can turn into a serious problem. While it’s perfectly acceptable to recognize these things as factors at play, they should not be used to explain away behaviors. Regardless of a stressful job or a rough patch in marriage, addiction is its own beast that should not be taken lightly. Explaining away our loved one’s behaviors doesn’t help them or us. By addressing the issue, we can begin a productive dialogue that will hopefully result in our loved ones receiving the help that they deserve. 

It’s often difficult for us to recognize when we’ve been enabling our loved one. It can sometimes feel like we’re placing part of the blame on ourselves. The truth is, no one is to blame for addiction. The important thing is that we recognize it and take steps toward recovery so that we can all lead happy and healthy lives. Support is absolutely crucial to recovery, so we must also monitor ourselves to ensure that our support doesn’t spill into enablement. 

Support is an essential aspect of the recovery process. Having people to rely on when going through such a difficult time increases the chance of a full and lasting recovery. However, when support becomes enablement and codependency, it can have the opposite effect. It can tell our loved ones that we will excuse and ignore their addiction. When shielded from the consequences of addiction, our loved ones will likely see no reason to stop. This is why it’s crucial that we monitor our own actions to ensure we’re supporting and not enabling those we love. To learn more about how to best support those we love, call West Coast Recovery Centers today at (760) 492-6509.

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