When you find out a family member you love is struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction, several emotions may race through your mind. In an addicted household, there are typically five different roles taken on by those closest to the person who is addicted to substances. One role is that of the enabler. Often, the enabler believes they are helping and supporting the person who needs help when, in reality, they are only helping them use more and cover up the drug or alcohol use. It’s important to pinpoint the differences between supporting and enabling someone with a addiction problem so you know how to stop their destructive behavior.
The Various Roles
Typically, family members take on one of five different roles when it comes to approaching an addicted loved one. These roles are: the enabler, the hero, the scapegoat, the mascot and the lost child. Here are descriptions of each position to better understand their differences.
This person believes they are helping the addict by denying there’s a problem at all. They make excuses for the addict, so they don’t suffer consequences from their substance abuse. This person tries to carry on as usual and act as if nothing is wrong.
The hero is the person who tries to work hard and hold the family together. They try to have a positive mindset and provide the family with the hope that things will get better. However, this pressure can cause them to be stressed and irritable at times.
Just as the name suggests, this person is often blamed for the addiction. The family’s anger is directed at them rather than the family member with the addiction, causing more tension and strain in the household.
The mascot is the person in the family that is typcially younger and tries to cope with the situation through humor. Because of the younger age of this person, they are typically more vulnerable and fragile. Approval from others is often sought out, one reason for humor being used so people will like them. The humor also creates a shield so they can deal with the pain of what they are going through. It is not uncommon for these individuals to grow up and become dependent on alcohol for self-medication. This continues the cycle of addiction in the family unit.
The Lost Child
Often one of the family’s younger members, this person is almost invisible to everyone else as the problems continue occurring in the house. They are quiet and shy, isolating themselves and living in their own world. This can lead to further problems as they get older. They often struggle with intimate relationships and interpersonal connections, in general.
Deeper Look at Traits of an Enabler
Enablers engage in several behaviors that are intended to be supportive but worsen the addiction:
1. Making Excuses
Enablers try to avoid conflict at all costs and make excuses for their loved one to do so. Examples are telling themselves or others that the addict will change or that things aren’t that bad. It may even include making excuses that the addiction will go away on its own, so it doesn’t have to be dealt with seriously.
2. Lying for the Loved One
Enablers try to help their loved one avoid severe consequences as a result of their substance use disorder. For example, an enabler may call in sick to work for their family member when, in fact, the person is hungover or passed out on the couch. This teaches them that there are no consequences to their actions, and they can continue using.
3. Helping the Family Member Out of a Bad Situation
Addiction commonly lands individuals in the hot seat due to poor choices at the expense of getting their hands on drugs or alcohol. For example, it is not uncommon for people with substance use disorder to end up in jail due to stealing goods or money to fund their addiction. The enabler will bail the person out every time to avoid conflict or a difficult situation, further teaching there are no consequences.
Why Do People Become Enablers?
As a loved one, people are not trying to purposely harm their family members and make their addiction worse. Most enablers likely come from a place of good intentions and are just trying to help in the best way they can. A lack of knowledge surrounding addiction is often the culprit behind enabling behavior. Providing proper addiction education for those going through the addiction of a loved one will save a lot of pain, guilt, hurt and grief for family members.
How to Stop Enabling
The reason many enablers take on their role is that they want to avoid conflict. Stopping enabling behavior involves being direct with the loved one who needs help and those around them. Ways to stop enabling behavior include:
- Telling someone if you notice shifty behavior
- Holding the loved one accountable for their actions rather than blaming others
- Getting priorities in line (not making hiding the addiction your number one priority)
- Stopping fear and anxiety from controlling you
- Not lying for the person addiction to drugs or alcohol to help them avoid consequences
- Expressing how you feel
- Not hating or resenting the addicted individual because of their disease
Learning to undo enabling behaviors will help you become the supporter that they need. The best way to learn to stop enabling is to receive education on addiction from a professional.
At Pinelands Recovery Center of Medford, we have seen our fair share of family dynamics within an addicted household. By working together and being educated on addiction, families can begin the healing process and build a better future for themselves. For more information, contact us at (877) 557-5372.