It can be extremely frustrating to be in the role of supporting someone struggling with an addiction. Unless you’ve been in the same position and are acting as a sponsor, your experience won’t be enough to connect with the struggle and understand the emotional turmoil present in recovery. Your help will be needed, but not always welcome, and sometimes you must draw a line between nurturing and assisting someone struggling with addiction, and unwittingly nurturing the very habits and behavior they’re trying to avoid.
Addiction will reduce a person. It will make them smaller during their addicted phase – smaller in the sense of rationality and self-consciousness. They will make decisions dedicated to the short-term, and their emotional core will be reduced by shame and a feeling of self-loathing. When addicted, the brain changes to accommodate the simplistic relationship between streams of pleasure and painful withdrawal, and the results can be devastating for your relationship with a person, and their very personality.
Undoing that isn’t an overnight gig. It takes challenging work, dedication and commitment from both them and you as their support. Pitching in to help someone struggling through drug addiction thus means understanding how addiction works, how it modifies behavior, and how it can draw out a manipulative side from the best of us. You must learn to nurture and promote good behavior and progress, and avoid enabling the kind of behavior that deepens the bond with addiction and worsens a person’s condition. So how does one tell the difference?
This is Enabling
Enabling someone’s addiction involves helping them rationalize any addictive behavior, or compromise on any type of action that in turn compromises the recovery effort. It could be sneaking in one last hit, trying out a different “milder” form of addiction, or turning a blind eye to suspicious behavior.
It may start with innocuous behavior, but it often develops into much more sinister manipulation. In patients struggling with severe addiction, it’s not uncommon to see one instance of lying turn into full-blown manipulation and emotional abuse over time. Giving someone struggling with an addiction an inch leads their brain onto a path that can rationalize pulling you over an entire country mile to score a hit.
Covering for your loved one when they relapse as a form of protecting them from the consequences of their actions also constitutes as a form of enabling. It’s obvious that you don’t want to see your child spend time in the criminal system or get expelled from school for their actions, but by robbing them of those negative experiences, you may be delaying their rock bottom. Rock bottom is a time when someone struggling with addiction hits such a devastating low that they put every effort into getting better to escape the pain and shame of the situation.
Enabling addictive behavior in a loved one can turn into an addictive behavior all in and of itself. Cases of codependency between someone struggling to recover from addiction and their emotional support – you – aren’t unheard of, and often results in a downward mental spiral of depression, self-loathing, lowering self-esteem and a pseudo-addiction to the chaos of dealing with an abusive relationship in all its dysfunctional glory.
To sum it up – if you’re hindering the natural progression of addiction, from realizing its detrimental effects to fighting against it and achieving long-term sobriety, then you may be engaging in enabling behavior. It’s not very straightforward, of course. Keeping your family member out of jail or in their job is obviously a powerful motivation, but you must remember that if they’re not serious about getting better, then nothing will change that until they finally realize it themselves through a severe lesson. That is one embodiment of support that specifically fights against the issue of enabling: tough love.
Bringing the Best Out of Your Loved One
The first step to proper support is education. You have to learn as much as you can about addiction and the latest literature surrounding the topics of addiction. We’ve come a long way from blaming it on class, willpower, and age alone – and there is a lot of interesting debate out there on the topic of addiction, giving you an idea of all the possible ideas surrounding the issue.
While it’s not like actually experiencing an addiction, doing your best to learn as much as you can about the topic can make a huge difference versus jumping into the role of supporting your loved one without proper research.
Next, you have to understand how to deal with stressful situations. Assuming that you’ve firmly established how important it is to quit and get help, with their agreement, the next step is figuring out how to nurture positive recovery behavior and ignore addictive behavior. Support your loved one by encouraging them to regularly practice their hobby, and see if it might even interest you enough to join them. Firmly establish your boundaries and make it clear that you won’t tolerate addictive behavior. Set up rules for the relationship with the clear intention that you want them to get better.
When is it Too Tough?
Rules and structure is great in recovery – but there is a point when being tough on the person you love oversteps a fine line and turns a relationship into a problematic situation of abuse and control.
In addiction recovery, you as the support are in control. In some cases, this makes it easy to try and “maximize” a person’s recovery through rules made for the sake of rules – but that’s counterproductive. Every rule should exist for the clear purpose of helping them get better, not regressing their progress and further destroying the relationship between you too.
It’s just a tiny bit like parenting, but not quite. In parenting, punishment reaps negative results, and tough love even indicated possible psychological damage in children. But in adults, taking a firm stance against manipulation and arguing for a fair relationship rather than a one-sided relationship (in either side), is important. You shouldn’t use tough love as an excuse to boss your loved one around, and they shouldn’t manipulate you into feeding their habit.