It’s widely agreed that addiction is a family disease impacting the entire family unit. Without realising family, friends, employers can become enmeshed in the game and without realising collude and even enable the addiction whether it be drugs, alcohol, gambling, so-dependency, thereby maintaining them in a destructive and self defeating behaviour. The action isn’t intended to be negative however the outcomes of ignoring poor behaviours and attitudes are ultimately we enable them to continue.

Our actions as parents are well intentioned; indeed it is our most basic instinct to protect our children from harm, however when addiction is involved it can become enabling. Friends may ignore poor behaviours, employers look for supportive management techniques and parents, siblings and children will cover up behaviours that we know to be negative as we are protecting the ones we love and care about. You see, there’s the problem, we think we’re protecting them, when actually we’re colluding in the actions.

We’re taught from an early age to love and care for each other, to protect and support friends, family and the wider community, to do what we can for those who are vulnerable. Yet what we aren’t taught is there is a BUT, a very big HOWEVER, when we follow these truths for those who are living in addiction we are enabling them to maintain their behaviours and we are not helping them to find a new less destructive lifestyle.

This is a huge subject for us to get our heads around when we first consider or are confronted with it. We love this person, how can we not help them in every way possible? It’s simple, we can love them, we can support them, however we do not assist them to continue destructing themselves and all the other lives in their paths.

Setting healthy boundaries is important in all relationships, setting boundaries that are agreed between family members, friends and in the workplace regarding the addict/alcoholic will assist the individual in learning there are consequences to actions and start the process of change. When there are no consequences why should there be a change in behaviour? The addict/alcoholic has been affirmed for their actions and/or behaviours and will struggle to see that change is necessary.

There is support, Al-anon and Fam-Anon support families of alcoholics and drug addicts and CO-Da is a co-dependency support group. Western Counselling has a Family Programme that introduces the notion of love and support that is neither enabling or colluding. Delivered every six weeks it enables families/carers and friends to learn about addiction, treatment and recovery, to identify manipulative and controlling behaviours and learn techniques to support the individual that are not enabling or colluding.

Five signs you may be enabling:

1) Ignoring unacceptable behaviours from the addict/alcoholic. This could include lying, stealing, using drugs in your home, drinking when they’re left in charge of the children or knowing they’re drinking and driving etc.

2) Making excuses for the addict’s behaviour to others, or lying to them to cover up the addict’s behaviours or attitudes. Minimising actions to make them less unacceptable.

3) Blaming others (people, situations, circumstances) thereby allowing the addict to be a victim and protect themselves from their own self-made consequences. This could include the addict getting fired from work, arrested, or blaming other people for the addict’s addiction or drug abuse.

4) Making concessions to avoid fearful or uncomfortable situations. This could be giving the addict money or other things so they don’t get angry. Allowing them to use drugs in the house so they don’t risk getting arrested, possibly even purchasing the substance for them. Lying awake all night waiting for their return and still allowing them to live with you. Paying for accommodation for them because they can’t afford it, yet not allowing them to live with you because you know they’re using and that their behaviour is unacceptable and dangerous.

5) Co-dependency issues. Are you finding yourself working harder in your relationship or the only one working for a relationship with your addicted loved one? Are you finding yourself constantly rescuing them? Are you prioritizing the addict’s needs above your own? Are you finding yourself continually striving for the addict yet never receiving any level of gratitude or thankfulness from them? Do you fear if you stop supporting the addict and setting healthy boundaries they will ultimately leave and not need you?