06/21/2012 03:05 pm ET Updated Aug 21, 2012

Are We Addicted to Being an Enabler?

I have written several articles about the family and friends' unhealthy involvement in their loved ones' addiction and/or recovery issues and process. So, if what you read sounds familiar, it probably is. But this is an area that merits revisiting over and over, as it's hard to drive home a point where denial about being an enabler is such a constant obstacle.

So why do family and friends continue to enable their loved ones? I'm sure if I pose this question to people I know that have addiction issues in their family they would jump up and down and say that they are not enabling but helping or being supportive. There is a huge difference, and often it's a fine line, but a very important line to understand the difference of enabling vs. a healthy partnership.

Here are a few reasons why (when often times we know this is not the right move to make) we are
such codependents and enablers. Or, why are we addicted to being an enabler?

1) Don't want to hurt the alcoholic/addict's feelings by saying "no," or "I'm not comfortable with your request," or just not agreeing with their plan.

2) Afraid of the anger or retaliation that might come from not granting their request.

3) Afraid they may do something "bad" (act out). The alcoholic/addict can so easily say "I'll show you, you'll be sorry."

4) We will be perceived poorly/indifferent. The alcoholic/addict can very easily turn the tables back on you as not caring or that you are a bad person or mean. Also, and not to be taken lightly, the judgment of others -- like family members that have no idea what goes on behind closed doors -- will evaluate your actions. I know with my own family members they have often said to me, "And what's your part in this?" We have no part when it comes to the alcoholic/addict and their addiction or recovery. As Al-Anon 12-step recovery programs say: "You didn't cause it, you can't cure it and you can't control it." Truer and wiser words were never said.

5) One more time I'll try it this way. The alcoholic/addict always seems to plea for more time, one more chance to make the wrong right. The past is a teacher, and if we ignore those teaching that we have been down this road with poor or unsatisfactory results, why give it more time for failure?

6) Maybe this time will be different. Much like number five, we all want to believe that this time will be different. Whether it's something small like a time curfew or promising to stop the addiction this time for good, we bump along the bottom and hope that this time will be different. But if it's not, then what?

7) Want to be liked. More often with parents than spouses, siblings or friends, parents want to be pals with their kids. Maybe they are making up for not being available to their children or blaming themselves for critical times in their child's life when they were absent. Well, better late than never, so if they feel close with their children they will be able to thwart off the bad stuff and have a relationship that is now better than ever. The parent may think they are earning brownie points for being a good chum, but trust me, the good deed is short-lived in the eyes of the alcoholic/addict until the next request, which can be just a few hours away.

8) Too lazy to change. When I was a treatment counselor, the parents of court-mandated adolescences had to have a parent/parents attend a family session for counseling. Most of the parents were too tired, too busy or too lazy to change the rules and regulations regarding their loved one's addiction issues or sketchy recovery process. They had been down this road for so many years that they were wary of continuing to tread over the same path. They had jobs or other responsibilities to attend to and didn't have the energy anymore.

9) Afraid. Being choked with fear has many people do things that they later regret. Fear is a huge state of mind and can blind us to hitting the pause button and stepping back to reassess the problem. We are often afraid of the alcoholic/addict in our life, because we just don't know what's coming. Keeping peace, not rocking the boat stems from fear, as the outcome of not acquiescing is just too great on us emotionally, physically and maybe financially. We are in essence being held hostage by the alcoholic/addict by their actions and ultimately our own fear.

10) This "dance" has been part of my life for so long, they don't know what they would do without it. Some people have made a lifestyle of being professional enabler or codependents. For all the reasons above, this is who they are and how they tick. Their own life is unfulfilling and they have to oversee, run and control others or just participate in a passive/aggressive way.

We are all enablers and codependents at certain times in our lives. It is human nature, and it is heartbreaking to see our loved ones traveling 90 miles an hour toward a brick wall of destruction when we think we have superhuman powers and are able to stop it -- not once, but time and time again. We are not doing our loved ones a service by living in fear of their threats, trying to be best buds, believing this time will be different or too lazy to do anything about their actions.

Step back and regroup and find a healthy, productive way to participate in their recovery, or if they are not in recovery and your life is a living hell because of the disrespect and destructive baggage they bring to the family, remember you do have options. They may be painful initially, but they will be more productive in the long run than as I said before... just bumping along the bottom hoping something one day will change.

If I can be of service, please visit my website at Please explore my new book "Reclaim Your Life -- You and the Alcoholic/Addict," available through Pay Pal, Amazon or wherever bookstores still exist. In addition, my book is now available as an audio CD through Pay Pal only.

For more by Carole Bennett, M.A., click here.

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