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How to Stop Enabling Opiate Addicts

When a family member or significant other is an opiate addict, it affects everyone around them. I always tell the family or significant other that they have it far worse than the addict. The addict is in control of the situation whether they realize it or not.  The family on the other hand normally has their hands tied. Loving an opiate abuser is very hard to do. On one hand you want to protect them, and do whatever you can to help them out, while on the other hand you want to shake them so that they wake up and see reality.  Very few people are successful at forcing an abuser into treatment or to seek help. A common question I hear often is, "How do I show my love to an addict, but not enable them?"

Enabling is defined as "giving someone the means to do something". With addicts, it is giving them the tools they need to use or get the drugs. Enabling can happen in many different ways, but we will talk about most common ways. Money is usually the number one thing an addict needs to obtain their drugs. When a family member lends money, pays their bills, or financially helps out an addict, this is a major problem.  The addicts learns to manipulate their friends, family, and loved ones to help them out. Helping out, or enabling an addict is one of the worst things you can do, because you are only helping to feed their addiction.  One example I often see are parents with children who are addicts in their mid 20's or early 30's still living home.  The parents want their child to have a future and they see the damage that can be done to their credit score if they do not help them out financially. The parents pay the bills, leaving their child with zero financial responsibilities.

Providing a place for the addict to sleep and eat is another source of enabling. When you allow them into your home (or to stay in your home) and provide them with food, you take two huge burdens off of the addicts shoulders. The addict does not have to worry about paying rent, (which is usually a majority of one's financial responsibility). The addict also has access to a shower, a bed to sleep in and food to eat.  This leaves the addict with no consequences for their living arrangements. This is detrimental to an addict's behavior because they only have to worry about getting their next fix.

As a parent or significant other of an addict, you will most likely experience trouble when trying to confront them.  Their mood swings, their personality changes, their withdrawals when they can't get their next fix.  They may steal and lie to you in order to do what they need to score their drugs. This is not healthy for the addict or the family and friends involved. If you notice things are missing such as jewelry or money and you do not punish them, you are enabling them.

I hear parents often say "but I don't want them my child to suffer, so I help them out", or "I don't want them to end up on the street or dead, so I'd rather pay for their drugs so they do them at home where I know they are safe".  This could be a bigger problem because the longer the addict uses, the higher their dosages will become which will eventually lead to an overdose or permanent organ damage.

Though it may be hard, tough love normally has the greatest effect. When you reach your breaking point, and realize “enough is enough” you need to stop enabling the addict. Stop providing them with what they need to make their life easier so their only worry is about them getting their fix.  Without responsibilities, their addiction will only grow worse.  Sitting back and watching them crash and burn will be the hardest thing in the world to do. It goes against everything you ever did as a parent or significant other, but it is the best possible scenario for saving their life. Enabling only allows them to further destroy their lives with your help. Tough love forces the addict to fend for themselves. This usually leads to them hitting rock bottom.  Let the addict know that when they are ready to end their addiction you will be more than happy to help them, but not until they are free from drugs and ready to make lifestyle changes.

If you are a parent or significant other and are curious if you are enabling an addict, ask yourself a few questions:

1. Am I providing the means for this person to use? (money, shelter, food, shower, etc)
2. Do I make excuses for this person's behavior?
3. Do they only come to me when they need something?

If you answered yes to these three questions, it is time to stop enabling.

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