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To end enabling behaviors in addiction and family dynamics, one must first understand what co-dependency is and how it affects relationships. Mental Health America defines co-dependency as “an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship”. The term referred to family members surrounding an addict. Now the term is used for mental health conditions and dysfunctional families too.

Definition of Enabling

Co-dependent people also suffer from a compulsion, or uncontrollable wish to engage in a behavior even though it causes harm. For co-dependents the compulsion is to enable the addict. Enabling means removing the natural consequences of one’s behaviors.

Enabling is often seen in addiction and families as parents paying the bail so a child does not face the consequences of being caught with drugs. Or a wife cleaning up after the drunk husband comes home and wrecks the house. Not only does she clean up the physical messes, but she wakes him up in the morning so he is not late for work.

In both cases the addict does not experience consequences for the addiction. Should the parents leave the child in jail overnight, the event might scare her into recovery. Should the wife leave the mess and allow the husband to be late, he might lose his job and see the effects of his drunkenness on the family.

To stop enabling the addict, the co-dependent family members will need to set boundaries of what is acceptable behavior. Read Family Recovery: Freedom from the Addiction of Controlling the Addict for an example of how to stop enabling behavior in addiction and family dynamics.

Definition of Boundaries

Boundaries are limits to what is acceptable behavior. They are used to protect the co-dependent person, not manipulate the addict.

  • Boundaries acknowledge the rights of non-addictive family members.
  • They offer framework to family relationships.
  • And they are intended for self-preservation, self-protection, and self-care.

Define Unacceptable Behaviors in the Family to End Enabling

When dealing with addiction and family dynamics, it’s necessary to state what are unacceptable behaviors. If the non-addicted family members agree to no longer support addictive behaviors, then stated what that means. For many parents this has meant not handing cash to the addict. Payment for recovery services are made to the recovery treatment center. This removes the temptation to use the money for the next fix.

Action Step: Make a list of boundaries. Many people center boundaries around values, such as not allowing illegal drugs to be used or kept in their home. Once the list is made, write the actions desired if those boundaries are not respected. Review the list with a family therapist or intervention specialist.

Define Acceptable Behaviors in the Family to End Enabling

When dealing with addiction and family dynamics, it’s necessary to state what you will do to help the addict. This may not seem like help to the addict at first. But many recovering addicts will testify it’s the only way one can hope to find sobriety.

  • Allow the addict to face consequences of actions.
  • Refuse to offer bail if addict is arrested.
  • Do not give cash to addict.
  • Refuse housing if evidence of active addiction.

Action Step: Make a list of acceptable behaviors when dealing with active addiction. Review list with family therapist or intervention specialist.

Detach from Addiction in the Family Dynamic

Once boundaries are defined there must be a commitment to honor them. It can be a challenge to stay strong in the face of a loved one’s addiction. Join a recovery group such as Al-Anon or CoDA. Support group members will offer their experience, strength, and hope around setting boundaries and defeating co-dependency.

Ready to End Enabling Behaviors in Addiction and Family Dynamics?

Addiction affects the entire family. If you or a loved one needs addiction recovery contact Northlake Recovery at (561)-770-6616. Northlake Recovery offers addiction recovery services and a Family Program to help end enabling behaviors.

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