How Can Colleagues Stop Enabling a First Responder’s Addiction?

There is nothing more painful than watching a friend suffer from a disease that has no cure. Although it is not an infectious disease with a patented medical treatment, there is hope for those who struggle with addiction. Substance abuse robs people of their time, energy, and personal resources as they battle against it day after day. Eventually, it bleeds into their work as a first responder. Their first response to stress may be to drink or use drugs to cope. Colleagues may be unsure how to help, so they continue to make excuses, cover for them, or help them sweep addiction under the rug. Enabling behavior keeps the cycle of addiction going rather than putting a stop to it. Here are some ways to identify when people are enabling and how to provide better support. 

Enabling Defined

Behavior that is enabled is allowed to continue despite consequences. Enabling can take direct or indirect forms. Any action or attitude that helps addiction to continue is enabling. Nearly 90% of people struggling with addiction have denial about their problem. Enabling keeps the lies and problems going. Without understanding the term “enabling”, people are often unable to help their colleagues overcome addiction. 

Addiction and Enabling

Identifying enabling behavior is harder than it seems. People may not want to admit they are enabling someone to do these things time after time. Maybe they really think they are helping their colleague. Some examples of enabling behaviors include helping with things the addict should do alone. This means paying the bills, picking up kids from school, showing up for work on time, and taking care of personal hygiene. Helping an addicted person avoid blame or consequences isn’t actually as helpful as it seems. Picking up after them, doing their jobs, or covering for them helps continue the cycle of addiction. An addicted person’s needs are no more important than anyone else’s. This is especially true if it involves money or paying for something they should be able to handle themselves. Resentment may build towards that colleague for ‘picking up the slack.’ These emotions will, in time, bubble over, and it will become challenging to manage all the moving parts of that person’s life combined with the colleague’s own personal responsibilities. 

Why Enabling Happens

Enabling happens because someone cares for that person. They love them, they honor them and want to see them happy. They will do what they can to help them avoid suffering. Addicts will also find ways to manipulate their colleagues and bosses into thinking they need special treatment. Providing this treatment or caving to their demands only enables them further. To be more helpful, there are ways to stop letting addicted people run the show. Instead, we should aim to put the pressure back on the addicted person. Make them decide if they can continue living their life in this way, consequences and all, or if they need help.                                                                                                                 

Help Comes with Challenges

Enabling comes from a wholesome place. While the behavior is misguided, the emotions behind them are not. Use these empathetic tendencies in turning your energies toward beneficial practices. The first thing to do is evaluate how much money is being spent helping them. Encourage them to look over their bills and finances. If they are willing to make some financial decisions, they are on the right track. If they deny there is a problem and begin to ask why you are cutting off support, then it might be a more challenging journey. This does not make it any less necessary. 

Come at Them with Love

Always approach the first responder one-on-one and with love. Be kind and let them know they have support, but their sobriety is of utmost importance. They need to know they are cared about and loved, even if it is tough love. Have a serious discussion about what they want and where they are right now. It may need to come from a supervisor who lets them know they need to take a break to deal with addiction. If they are not willing to do that, it may be time to figure out other consequences. 

Offer Other Options

Someone who has been enabled is likely going to object when their “support” is taken away. They like to keep things the way they are because this system keeps an addiction going. Colleagues can try to appeal to the person underneath all the addiction issues, however. Help them understand support groups are available to help them. There are non-judgmental spaces to go and seek help. Support systems provide encouragement and stability as long as they try to get sober and improve their lives.

Having a colleague walk through addiction and recovery is not easy, but it is possible to support them without enabling their behavior. Even if they continue to struggle, they will know everyone is behind them and is doing their best to do the right thing in getting them the help they need.

Forge is a place to come and recover your life from addiction. We help you reimagine what is possible and create the life you’ve been dreaming of.

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