Find out how you can spot a drug addict, determine if you are enabling them, and make a change if your actions are hurting your loved one.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse indicated that in 2013, an estimated 22.7 million people in the U.S. alone needed treatment for a substance abuse issue. However, a gap exists between this number and the amount of people actually getting help from a specialty facility, which is only 2. 5 million.

Why? One factor that can keep those struggling with addiction from seeking professional help is if they are enabled, assisted in a manner not helping them towards full recovery but hindering their development.

Situations don’t have to be this way. Find out how you can spot a drug addict, determine if you are enabling them, and make a change if your actions are hurting your loved one.

Addiction Is Predictable

To determine if you are an enabler, first ask if the person is actually an addict.

Substance dependence can be defined as follows: “Impaired control over the use of a chemical substance, accompanied by a physiological dependence.” Physiological dependence is “a condition in which a drug user’s body comes to depend on a steady supply of the substance.”

This addiction (lack of control over using a substance that the body now depends on) manifests in symptoms.

Physical consequences appear. Insomnia, decreased appetite and tremors often manifest in cases of meth abuse. Psychological consequences can result. Is this person experiencing hallucinations, confusion or loss of interest as often occurs with cocaine? Are they experiencing extreme paranoia associated with meth? Behavioral consequences can occur when obligations are neglected or a lack of engagement in activities (social, recreational, etc.) that used to be common.

Enabling Is Observable

If the person you have in mind meets many of the above factors, then they are likely an addict.

If you engage in any of the following activities, you may be enabling:

  • Repeatedly providing financial assistance without deeply investigating if the need is legitimate
  • Cleaning up physical destruction and messes created by the addict without the addict also engaged in the clean up process
  • Doing favors that are making excuses for the addict’s irresponsible living (i.e. calling in sick for them for work, helping them meet deadlines they neglected, repeatedly providing childcare so they can attend to what they neglected when engaging in addictive behavior).

Change Is Possible

To stop enabling, asking one question to change your actions is crucial.

What does helping mean to you? Often, people who are enablers believe they are helping the addict. However, although it may seem like aid, they often simply meet an immediate need in a short-term crisis situation. Many times, doing what seems to be “helping” in the short-term is not actually helping the addict learn how to change their behavior and habits for long-term benefit.

In order to stop aiding an addict, you must determine what helping means to you. Are you willing to feel like you are being somewhat “mean” in the short-term because you know letting the addict feel the consequences pushes them to holistic, long-term change? 

Sometimes, the most loving way to help is letting the addict feel the full effects of their actions. When the consequences hit them hard, then they are able to see the depths of their situation more clearly and seek long-term solutions.

This does not mean you should completely disengage from a relationship with the addict. In fact, your “tough-love” is vital support. Try these actions:

  • Ask to see receipts of purchases if the addict asks for financial help to verify the situation.
  • Leave the messes created by destructive behavior so the addict has a visual of their choices and only help them clean them up if the addict is involved.
  • Give conditions when you provide services such as childcare. Let them know under what circumstances you will (and will not) provide this favor for them.
  • Offer alternative skills for the addict to develop or activities in which to engage.

The process to break addiction is hard. However, your actions can make a big difference. Choose to act in a way that provides real, long-term help.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.