In 2014, a survey reported that 6.3 million adults ages 18 and older had an alcohol use disorder.1 When it’s your loved one who has the drinking problem, one of the most important points to keep in mind is how not to enable alcohol abuse. Family and friends who enable alcohol abuse unintentionally add to the problem.
While a desire to help a loved one who has a drinking problem may be the best of intentions, certain behaviors can backfire and actually help an alcoholic to continue on a path of destruction. Helping a family member or friend is instinctive for most of us, but when addiction is involved, a whole new perspective is needed to protect yourself and avoid enabling the drinker.
Enabling vs. Empowering
There’s a fine distinction between enabling and empowering since both involve the instinct to help those you care about. It’s okay to want to help loved ones, but when rushing in with help removes the consequences of their actions, you’re enabling.
Here’s an example to help you distinguish between enabling and empowering:
- Enabling: Your spouse misses work due to “sleeping off” a hangover. You call the boss to say your spouse has the flu or a cold.
- Empowering: Your hungover spouse asks you to call the boss to make an excuse as to why they won’t be in to work. You refuse by telling your spouse it’s their responsibility to make the call.
If you’re consistently enabling dysfunctional behavior, it’s called being codependent. Notice the word “codependent” implies a two-way street. In most cases, an enabler’s self-esteem is dependent on their ability and willingness to help, but in inappropriate ways. Also, the assistance makes the enabler feel in control of what’s really an uncontrollable situation. The reality is that enabling doesn’t help, because it actively causes harm and makes the situation worse.
Questions to Ask Yourself to Learn How Not to Enable Alcohol Abuse
Honestly ask yourself:1
- Do you frequently ignore unacceptable behavior?
- Do you have hard feelings due to added responsibilities you take on?
- Do you constantly put aside your own needs in order to help someone else?
- Do you have issues expressing your own feelings?
- Do you fear that refusing requests will cause a fight, make the person leave you or even result in violence?
- Do you ever lie to hide someone else’s mistakes?
- Do you always blame others for problems rather than assign blame to the one who is actually responsible?
- Do you continue to offer assistance even when it’s never appreciated, respected or recognized?
If these questions make you think about being an enabler, it may be time to being seeking treatment and professional help. Even though the person may refuse help, you can still go on your own. You’ll learn how to develop positive coping skills, how not to enable alcohol and how to make better decisions moving forward.