How to Create and Enforce Boundaries with an Enabler

For people in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction, the struggle to maintain sobriety is difficult. There are many strategies and ongoing treatment methods that people in recovery will have to employ to maintain their sobriety. They will struggle internally with cravings to use, intrusive memories, and even post-acute withdrawal syndrome. Externally, recovering addicts will have to re-engineer their lives to give themselves the highest chances of maintaining their sobriety and avoiding relapse.

One, crucial thing that recovering addicts will need to do to maintain their sobriety is to change their social circle. They will have to avoid places, things, and especially people who have contributed to their addiction. Creating and enforcing firm boundaries with an enabler or a group of enablers is critical for an addict’s recovery and continued success.

Dealing with an Enabler

What is an enabler?

An enabler can be a friend or a family member whose actions and words perpetuate a person’s addictive behavior. Enablers often shield an addicted person from the consequences of their actions. In extreme cases, enablers may purchase drugs or alcohol for the addicted loved one. Enablers may provide a place for the person to do drugs or drink, give them money to obtain drugs or alcohol, call in to work for them with an excuse, or bail them out of jail. At its core, enabling comes down to this:

Are their actions helping or hurting the addict?

Any time an individual says or does something to perpetuate someone’s addiction and shields them from the consequences that could compel them to get into treatment, then they are enabling that person’s addictive behavior.

Without treatment, drug addiction kills. On the surface, it may seem kind to “help” someone by giving them money, a place to stay, or keeping them out of jail. But these actions only buy the person more time to get high or drunk. Enabling jeopardizes an addict’s health and wellbeing, no matter how “kind” the enabling behavior looks on the surface.

Enablers often do not realize that their actions are damaging to their loved one’s ability to get better. It is difficult for family and loved ones to watch someone they care about struggle with addiction, and in turn, they may struggle walking the thin line between supporting, and enabling an addicted loved one.

In contrast, a supporter is someone who does not shield a loved one from the consequences of addictive behavior. Supporters do not furnish an addict with a place to stay and get high or give them money to feed an addiction. A supporter would provide money for treatment, or rides to and from therapy. Unlike enablers, supporters have strong boundaries and do not feed or encourage addictive behavior either through their express actions, or lack thereof.

How can people in recovery, or supportive loved ones, deal with enablers?

Since enablers usually do not understand why their behavior is harmful, educating an enabler is vital. Educating enabling family members about the nature of addiction is just as important as teaching an addicted loved one about how substance use disorder works.

When confronted about how dangerous their loved one’s addiction is, many enablers will minimize the seriousness of the situation, or even outright deny that their loved one is addicted. It’s vital to be firm and confront an enabler about what enabling is, and offer concrete examples of how their enabling behavior has harmed the addict in the past. Education, and clear communication that avoids “blaming” language can help turn an enabler into a supporter. With most enablers, when they understand how their behavior affects the dynamics of addiction, they may be motivated to change and become a supporter.

Is it a good idea to prevent an enabler from gaining access to a recovering addict’s life?

After they’ve been confronted, some enablers will continue to deny the seriousness of the situation and how their behavior is harmful to the person in recovery. They may stay firmly in denial about their role as an enabler or reject the notion that their loved one has a disease and that they need ongoing treatment and care. Giving a stubborn enabler access to a recovering addict is a considerable risk that isn’t worth it.

As tragic as it may be, it’s a good idea to go no contact with an enabler who is in denial. Letting an enabler back into a person’s life while they are in recovery can prove fatal for the addict. People in recovery need to be surrounded by strong, supportive people who will help them avoid temptation and access to drugs or alcohol.

Does going no contact involve lying?

Recovering addicts and their loved ones do not need to lie to cut off contact. No contact means creating a boundary with the enabler and letting them know in no uncertain terms that until they change their attitude and become supportive of the person in recovery, they cannot have access to them. Blocking a phone number, refusing to answer the door to the enabler, and not responding to emails or messages through third parties the enabler may send is what it means to go no contact.

The recovering addict and the enabler may have strong feelings for each other, and it can be incredibly difficult to cut contact with someone they care about. Drug addiction therapists and counselors who are experienced with these types of dynamics can help a recovering addict and their supportive loved ones navigate this emotional minefield. Knowledgeable therapists can also help family members and recovering addicts firmly enforce boundaries with enablers with communication techniques that do not place blame on anyone, so a relationship has a better chance of being salvaged sometime in the future if possible.

Are you or a loved one struggling with life after initial recovery from addiction? The first several months after inpatient rehab can be challenging to navigate without outside assistance, but a return to normalcy is possible. The dedicated counselors at Mission Harbor Behavioral Health have assisted hundreds of people with maintaining their sobriety after leaving rehab. If you’re having trouble enforcing boundaries with enablers, the therapists at Mission Harbor can help you. Please contact Mission Harbor today to see what our specialists can do for you.

The facilities at Mission Harbor are staffed with trained experts to best assist patients with their mental health issues. We are capable of dealing with any and all cases with a licensed staff, equipment, and approved techniques. Our mission is to help those who want to help themselves, and we support your decision in seeking help.

Get Help Now

Alcohol addiction is extremely difficult to overcome on your own.. Seek specialized help and let professionals guide you in your recovery.