Pop Quiz: Can You Spot the Enabling Behaviors?

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When our loved ones are hurting, we want to help. When our loved ones are struggling with substance abuse, that “help” may not be good for them. What we consider aid may actually be enabling. Our actions are furthering their addiction rather than making them face the truth.

Consider the following scenarios. See if you can identify which responses are healthy and which ones aren’t.

Your brother comes to you in a panic, saying his light bill is three months overdue. He’s been unemployed for the last year, mainly due to a crippling Oxycontin addiction. After stealing (and pawning) your mom’s gold necklace and wedding ring, the rest of the family isn’t speaking to him. You still love your brother and don’t want his electricity to be cut off (after all, it’s the dead of winter and he needs heat), so you write him a check for $200 to cover the bill.

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Yes, Enabling – You know your brother is hooked on drugs and, deep down, you know the money you hand over to him will never make it to the Utility Department. Giving him that money is like handing him drugs and expecting him not to do them. It’s just not going to happen.

Your sister’s in the process of trying to kick heroin – cold turkey. Over the last 36-hours, she’s been violently ill – sweating, vomiting, diarrhea, aching all over. On the morning of day three, she asks you for a ride to her friend’s house. You don’t know this “friend,” but the address is in a part of town that’s notorious for drug activity. Your sister has no car and no money for a cab. She’s been so sick and you feel sorry for her, so you give in and drive her where she wants to go.

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Yes, Enabling – You are well aware that your sister has a drug problem. You’re also well aware that it takes a lot more than three days to overcome a heroin problem. You hope that wherever you are taking her is not a place where she will be buying or using drugs, but you know that’s probably exactly what’s going to happen. Allowing your emotions to overtake your reasoning isn’t doing your sister any favors; giving her rides only makes it easier for her to use.

Your husband calls from jail – again. After spending four hours at a local bar with friends watching a basketball game, he’d racked up a $200 tab and, according to the officer who arrested him, a blood alcohol level of 0.16%. It’s his second DUI offense this year. He wants you to retain the best lawyer in town – and drain the family bank account in the process. You tell him to talk to the public defender and find out what his options are for entering some kind of treatment program.

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No, Not Enabling – Bailing your husband out won’t help anyone. In fact, it would hurt everyone. Your husband would never have to face the consequences of his actions, and your kids would have to go without new school clothes again because all your money went toward a second round of lawyer fees. Meanwhile, his habits clearly haven’t changed. Making his only option to enter treatment is the hard – but most loving – thing to do for the whole family.

You and your wife have dinner plans with friends. When it’s time to leave, you discover that she spent the afternoon drinking and is in no condition to go. You call your friends and cancel your plans. When they ask if everything is okay, you tell them your wife has come down with a bad cold and wants to stay in rather than spread the germs.

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Yes – Enabling – Lying to others to cover an addict’s behavior is a sure sign of enabling. It denies the problem and avoids facing the truth that they need help. A healthier response would be to go to dinner without her, tell the friends what’s going on, and seek support.

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