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Many families unintentionally enable their loved one’s addictive behaviors. According to Social Work in Public Health, “Enabling is a form of accommodation that protects the individual with the SUD from fully experiencing the consequences of his or her substance use.” Lighthouse Recovery Texas uses evidence-based treatment to help people accept their circumstances and avoid the enabling behaviors of family and friends. 

What Does Enabling a Loved One Mean?

People who enable their loved ones usually intend to show support or help them through a difficult time. However, trying to do the right thing may only further ingrain maladaptive behaviors. In most cases, family and friends try to protect their loved ones from negative consequences to give them time and space to get better. Unfortunately, this only causes the person to avoid facing the consequences of their actions, perpetuating the cycle of substance misuse and abuse. 

Some motivations for enabling behaviors include: 

  • Not wanting a loved one to face criminal charges 
  • Protecting a loved one from financial stress
  • Handling the issue “in the family” to avoid social stigmas 
  • Wanting to help the person “get over” their addiction 
  • Ignoring a loved one’s substance abuse

Substance use disorder (SUD) is a brain disease that requires professional treatment to overcome. Enabling behaviors can stop people from getting lifesaving access to early intervention and treatment needed to achieve long-lasting recovery.

Can Enabling a Loved One Put Them in Danger? 

Some family members enable their loved one’s addictive behaviors in a way that increases their risk of bodily harm. Certain substances are hazardous, and even a single instance of use can lead to overdose, injury, illness, or death. A few enabling behaviors that can endanger your loved one include: 

  • Redirecting blame 
  • Shielding the person from the consequences of their actions 
  • Encouraging unhealthy patterns of behavior 
  • Not getting them medical assistance out of fear they will get into legal trouble

Your loved one needs to face the realities of their condition and the consequences of their choices. Protecting them keeps them stuck on the same path with no motivation for change. 

Possible Side Effects of Enabling Behaviors

The side effects of enabling substance misuse and other maladaptive behaviors can vary depending on multiple factors, including the type of substance and family dynamics. If you allow your loved one to take part in risk-taking behaviors like substance misuse, the side effects can include the following:

  • Accident, injury, or death while under the influence 
  • Increased risk of criminal charges or other legal issues 
  • Relationship issues leading to domestic violence, divorce, or losing custody of children 
  • Increased risk of mental health issues 

Warning Signs of Substance Misuse and Addiction

Family members may not recognize the signs of substance or alcohol misuse, which might cause unintentional enabling. Recognizing the signs of substance misuse can help you know when to intervene. 

Common warning signs include:

  • Legal problems related to alcohol or substance misuse, including charges of driving under the influence (DUI)
  • Unexplained job loss or inability to hold down a job due to alcohol or substance misuse 
  • Frequent and extreme mood swings 
  • Unusual aggression or irritation
  • Frequently borrowing money with no explanation
  • “Doctor shopping” to get multiple medication prescriptions and hoarding medication 
  • Uncommon outbursts or severe mood swings
  • Sudden changes in eating
  • Lack of motivation

The signs of addiction look different for each person, and if you notice these signs, it does not necessarily indicate the presence of an addiction. A clinical assessment and diagnosis will ensure your loved one gets the treatment they need if they have SUD. 

Examples of Common Enabling Behaviors

You care for your loved one and want to help them. In many cases, people with SUD struggle with co-occurring mental health disorders. Enabling behaviors can worsen the symptoms of substance misuse and co-occurring conditions. 

People often enable their loved ones by doing the following: 

  • Providing financial or legal support 
  • Excusing antisocial and risk-taking behaviors 
  • Taking on their responsibilities to protect them from negative consequences
  • Ignoring or avoiding symptoms and side effects of SUD 
  • Denying the problem 

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “Many times, family members (and often partners/spouses) will engage in behaviors that help maintain the person’s substance misuse, not because they want the person to keep misusing substances but because they do not know what else to do or how exactly to help.” 

What Should I Do to Support My Loved One? 

Set clear boundaries for yourself and your loved one. By clearly communicating your concerns and encouraging them to attend treatment, you can help them avoid long-term health issues and lower their risk of relapse or overdose. Avoid enabling behaviors and, instead, offer them love and support as they work to acknowledge that they have a problem that requires treatment.

Addiction rehab provides a space where your loved one can establish new routines. During treatment, they will learn essential skills to help them manage side effects caused by maladaptive and enabling behaviors. You can support your loved one by encouraging them to get the help they need to heal. 

Concern about your loved one’s health and well-being might unintentionally cause you to enable their maladaptive behaviors. You may feel uncertain about how best to help them overcome substance misuse. However, there are things you can do to support their recovery. Encourage them to get an official diagnosis and treatment to address their addictive behaviors and any co-occurring or underlying issues. The dedicated team at Lighthouse Recovery Texas prioritizes family support and involvement in the recovery process. We understand the importance of positive family connections during treatment and aftercare. You can support your loved one while they attend our IOP or PHP programs. To learn more about the services and treatments we offer, call today at (214) 396-0259.