Many times when family and friends try to “help” alcoholics and addicts, they are actually making it easier for them to continue in the progression of the disease. “Family” can mean spouse, parents, and/or children. Friends includes work colleagues including bosses.
This baffling phenomenon is called enabling, which takes many forms, all of which have the same effect — allowing the alcoholic to avoid the consequences of his actions. This in turn allows the alcoholic to continue merrily along his drinking ways, secure in the knowledge that no matter how much he screws up, somebody will always be there to rescue him from his mistakes
What is the difference between helping and enabling? There are many opinions and viewpoints on this, but here is a simple description:
Helping is doing something for someone that they are not capable of doing themselves. Enabling is doing for someone things that they could, and should be doing themselves.
Simply, enabling creates an atmosphere in which the alcoholic can comfortably continue his unacceptable behaviour. Often well-meaning efforts to help someone with an alcohol or drug problem actually empowers them to continue their destructive behaviour by allowing them to avoid the consequences of their actions. This is called “enabling.”
Some examples to help you decide whether or not your actions and reactions to the alcoholic/addict might be enabling him/her… ‘Calling in sick’ for the alcoholic because they were too hung over; making excuses and/or accepting part of the blame for the alcoholic’s drinking or behaviour; lying to ANYONE to cover up for the alcoholic; avoiding talking about the alcoholic’s drinking out of fear of the response; paying the alcoholic’s bills; ‘loaning’ the alcoholic money; giving the alcoholic ‘one more chance’ and then another and another; threatening to leave if the alcoholic didn’t stop drinking and then did not leave; finishing a job or task that the alcoholic failed to complete himself
If you identified positively to any of these examples you may have at some point in time enabled the alcoholic or addict to avoid the consequences of his or her own actions and avoid his own responsibilities. Rather than “help” the alcoholic, you would have actually made it easier for him to get worse.
If you identified positively to most or all the examples, you may have not only enabled the alcoholic, you have probably become a major contributor to the growing and continuing problem and chances are have become affected by the disease yourself.