The Holidays: When Enabling Is At An All-Time High

December 9th, 2015 | By Brittany Meadows | Posted in Addiction, Blog, Drug Addiction, Enabling

Each holiday season, families gather together to celebrate – and adult children come home to visit family and friends. While many parents and siblings look forward to such visits and cherish the time together – addiction can change everything.


For many families struggling with active addiction, it can mean a time of anguish and pain. The thought of managing an addicted loved one while maintaining peace and unity can be overwhelming. The hopes to “get them better” can lead families to do desperate things – like enable.

 

Maybe this year will be different. Maybe you can keep a better eye on him. If he’s in the house, you can look for a stash of Oxycontin in his bags – and thwart any attempts to buy heroin. At least he won’t be around all of his using buddies if he’s home. And, if she’s home for the holidays, you can feed her a good meal – that’s all she really needs to get back on track, right? If he comes home for Christmas, he won’t have to worry about work or school for a week or so – that’ll help him out. If she’s at the Christmas dinner table, you can monitor how much she’s drinking.

 

It true that the holidays can be the best time to get help for addiction – but not because you’re keeping him away from cocaine; and not because you’re keeping a watchful eye on how much she’s drinking.

 

In fact, these actions are what make the holiday season the season of enabling. Addiction enabling is at an all-time high this time of year. If you’re recognizing signs of addiction when your adult child or sibling is home for the holidays, it’s time to take action.

 

Below are a few points to keep in mind.

 

  • They’re in your home, but their drug usage or drinking is not within your control.

    It isn’t just happenstance or bad luck that has led your loved one to this place of active addiction. Despite the fact that he or she is in your home – you must realize that you are not in control of his or her using or drinking. What you are in control of, however, is how you handle it. If he or she is in active addiction, they will be using at Christmas time. Providing a room for him or her in your home – even at the holidays – is giving your loved one a place to use. It won’t be easy to tell them, but they should not be welcome in your home if they are or have been using.

 

  • Saying no and setting boundaries with your loved one will be difficult, especially at the holidays.

    Because addiction thrives in isolation, secrecy and deception – your loved one is not likely used to boundaries and accepting “no” for an answer. You loved one will know what emotional buttons to push, and how to manipulate you. You may experience yelling, name calling, swearing, crying or threats.

    Your loved one may beg, plead and do their best to cause your guilt and pain – tell you that you’re the worst parent/grandparent/sibling ever, and throw the holidays in your face. Set your boundaries. Stand your ground.

 

  • Don’t give him or her money, gift cards or gifts.

    Chances are, you know that giving him cash means giving him drug money – but gift cards and gifts can be just as dangerous. You may think that the Publix gift card will go directly to food, or the gas card towards fuel money he’s always asking for, or that pretty new scarf will go perfectly in her wardrobe – but they will not. If he or she is in active addiction, those things will be sold for money to buy drugs or alcohol. If you want to give them a gift, use that money for treatment. 
  • You’re not protecting the family image.

    Some families will go to extreme lengths to “cover up” a loved one’s addiction. Maybe you have extended family coming to dinner, or family friends stopping by for a holiday celebration. Trying to hide your loved one’s drug or alcohol use isn’t in your best interest – or theirs. Chances are if he or she is in active addiction, you aren’t the only one who knows or will notice. Addiction isn’t a family’s “dirty little secret” – it’s a disease, and your loved one needs your help to get treatment. 
  • Now that your loved one is home, it’s a good time to talk about his or her addiction.

    Part of enabling can be ignoring it in hopes that it goes away. If your loved one is home for the holidays, it’s your opportunity to have a private conversation and say, “I love you. I’m not going to support what you’re doing anymore – but I am here to help you get help.”

    • Explain how much you love them.
    • Tell them how much you miss them.
    • Don’t point fingers.
    • Be honest.


Just because it’s Christmas-time doesn’t mean that it’s not “the time and place.” There is no better time than right now.

 

At the holidays, it’s easy to mistake enabling for helping a loved one – especially when you haven’t seen him or her in months. But avoiding enabling and forcing him or her to face the harsh realities of addiction – and the consequences of the addiction – might just be the incentive he or she needs to seek treatment. You won’t ruin the holidays by refusing to enable – in fact, you may be setting the stage for years of happier, healthier holidays ahead.

For more information about enabling addiction, check out our infographic:

Addiction Campuses: Enabling Addiction Infographic

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