• Dr. Heather Violante, PsyD

5 Ways to Put Yourself First and Stop Enabling Your Loved One with an Addiction


Have you been trying to get a loved one to break their drug or alcohol addiction, but often forget to take care of yourself? Do you always put their needs ahead of your own? It’s common that when people are caring for a partner, family member, or friend with an addiction they forget to take care of their own needs, and find themselves frustrated, exhausted, and out of control. Self care is one of the best ways you can help yourself and help your loved one. Here are some ways you can stop enabling your loved one and make sure you start getting your life back on track:

1. Don’t make excuses. If you lie and cover for their mistakes to protect them, they’ll keep making the same mistakes over and over again. You’ll find yourself having to lie repeatedly, and it will take a toll on your mental health. Let them take responsibility and ownership for their behavior, even if it’s not the decision you would make. You’ll feel better for not having to lie and when they make healthy decisions and decide to seek help to get sober, it will be worth celebrating.

2. You can’t make them change. No matter how hard you try, you’ll never be able to force your loved one to change. They will have to be the one who decides to make positive changes for themselves. If you keep pushing, you might push them away and be the one who feels the most pain. While you shouldn’t be forceful or pushy, it is important that you encourage them to seek treatment. Remember, don’t blame yourself for their decisions or behavior if they don’t choose to get help.

3. Don’t try to rescue or fix them. There is only so much you can do to support a loved one with a drug or alcohol addiction. You want to avoid spending all of your time focused on their needs and forgetting about your own. While it may feel like you are abandoning them if you back off, they have to be the one to take control of their own life. Spend some time on self-care, and focus on fixing what you do have control over in your life.

4. Don’t make empty threats. It’s important to set clear boundaries from the very beginning and stick to them. If you haven’t done so already, set aside time to have a conversation about what you plan to do moving forward. If you establish rules and don’t follow through, they can take advantage of you and keep crossing those lines. Try using a 3-strike system; let them know what the rules are and after they’ve struck out for the third time, stick to the consequences you’ve put in place. This allows for some flexibility and setbacks, while helping you stay in control. This system will help you be able to live your own life and not be caught up in theirs.

5. Let them hit rock bottom. Allow them to make their own choices, even if it’s not what you consider to be the “right” choice. Also, not everyone’s rock bottom is the same. For example, prison may be your rock bottom, but it might not be your loved one’s. It’s important that your loved one is allowed to choose their own path, because it will have to be their decision to get the help they need to recover. After they’ve hit rock bottom, offer encouragement and support, but don’t let yourself be a crutch.

Not only is it OK to put yourself first, you should put your needs first! If you feel guilty for allowing your loved one to make bad decisions, remember you can’t force them to change and you can’t make decisions for them. If you need help focusing on your own needs and learning to cope, Serenity Lane Psychological Services offers therapy to those struggling with drug addiction, as well as their loved ones who are in need of support and guidance. Dr. Heather Violante provides addiction treatment and counseling in Fort Lauderdale, Florida for adults and their loved ones.

Dr. Heather Violante, Psy. D.

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