Monday March 30th 2015

Enabling behaviors and addiction

Enabling behaviors and addiction

Enabling behaviors in families

Statistics show that one in four adults struggle with addiction, impacting millions of family members. This is why addiction is often called a “family disease”. And why codependent relationships and addictions are closely related.  But what does codependent mean?

It is difficult to be in a relationship with an addict and not get sucked into enabling behavior. When somebody you love is suffering with an illness or a disease you naturally want to help. As a result, loved ones often step in to save the addict from the devastating consequences of their actions. Family members believe they are doing the right things when they help to save the addict’s job, help him or her to stay out of jail, help to pay their overdue bills, or save them from whatever horrific thing is getting ready to happen. But these actions are making it easier for the addict to continue drinking or using drugs, because the consequences aren’t bad enough to convince him or her to stop.

Over time, those closest to an active addict may take on enabling behaviors. As a result, the person enabling the addict is playing a part in the addiction. While enabling behaviors typically come from a desire to help, they are actually hurting. Many times, family members and loved ones become consumed with the addict and the problems surrounding the addiction. This can cause their physical and emotional health to suffer.

Signs of an enabler

Following are some of the signs that a person is taking on the enabling role. An enabler typically:

  1. avoids doing things away from the home because they want to keep an eye on the addict.
  2. falls for the same lies over and over again.
  3. fantasizes about something bad happening to the addict, and then feels guilty for having such terrible thoughts.
  4. feels as though the weight of the world is on your shoulders.
  5. feels tired and drained much of the time.
  6. has difficulty sleeping because of worry about the addict.
  7. suffers financial problems due to the addiction.
  8. takes on the addict’s responsibilities.

How to avoid enabling an addict

So how do you love an addict without stepping in and enabling the addiction? You do this by treating the addict with dignity and respect (putting a stop to arguing), learning about addiction so that you understand the disease, and offering words of encouragement. Here are some ideas.

1. Allow the addict to take responsibility for their own choices. 

Stop codependent thinking and acting.  In a loving way you can explain to the addict, “I care about you, but I cannot take on your responsibilities.” As difficult as it might be, family members must learn to let the addict feel the pain of their choices. By facing the consequences of their actions, the struggling addict may be inspired to seek or accept help.

2. Communicate clearly but kindly.

Furthermore, if yelling, berating, and blaming have become normal in the household, it is important to stop this pattern. Feelings of guilt and shame are triggers for an active addict. Many times, getting drunk or high is their way of covering up these emotions. Family members may feel the need to remind the addict, over and over again, how hurtful their behavior is. In reality, the addict is typically harder on themselves then anyone around them.

3. Take care of yourself.

Finally, each family member should place a focus on their own physical and emotional health. This is not a selfish act. This is setting a positive example for everybody involved — including the addict. One of the best sources of help available for families is Al-Anon. By attending Al-Anon meetings regularly, family members can gain the extra support needed to follow through on making healthy changes in their family dynamic.

Enabling behaviors and addiction questions

Are you acting as an enabler to an addict in your family? Do you still have questions about how to stop enabling? Or perhaps maybe you’d like to share more about your struggles, experiences and successes. Please leave us your comments about enabling below. We try our best to respond to all comments PROMPTLY and will provide you with a personal, kind and supportive reply.

Photo credit: wackystuff

Leave a Reply

12 Responses to “Enabling behaviors and addiction
10:46 am April 10th, 2012

There is a big pink elephant in the room of enablers. Only this enabler doesn’t act out of love, but the desire for power and riches. Methadone clinics are ruining lives all across this country. I should know because they nearly ruined mine. Thank goodness I am on a path to recovery, but the path is rocky, What I have done to this point, I have done alone (no help from clinic), but I am almost there. I thank you for this informative site, and would like to ask that we join together to have these methadone clinics held accountable.


3:39 pm August 4th, 2013

my daughter is 23 she’s on drugs and alcohol,she’s is out of the house,i tried to help her i spent all my retirement saving trying to help her.i had to let her go .now she’s living in the streets, im haveing nitemares,felling depressed.wondering if she’s ok,i put her in a halfway house,that lasted1 nite don’t no what to do ,im broke,mentally physicaly

7:46 am August 13th, 2013

Hello Bruce. IT sounds like you need some support. Here are our Top 3 suggestions for parents in your place.

1. Go and see a family counselor/psychologist who specializes in addiction treatment. You are not alone, and there are ways that you can learn how to cope with the situation.

2. Seek help from Al-Anon or another support group for the same reason.

3. Offer no more more or help to your daughter while she’s in active addiction. Set limits and boundaries with the help of the psychotherapist and Al-Anon.

2:45 pm December 31st, 2013

I was wondering if there were any good books about how a sibling of an addict handles the parents who are enabling. I’m afraid that I am going to have to cut ties with my parents until the enabling stops. It’s very, very messy & I feel like the situation only gets worse. Any suggested reading material would be fantastic!

Lilly Good
3:21 am June 17th, 2014

I have been enabling my AH for a long time by trying to understand why he is doing what he does by asking many questions. He talks about me like I am his angel or something, which I am not. He feels good when I am around when he is drunk but he doesn’t want to talk about it, and I do, I just found out, that is wrong for me to sol
In time I hope to be independent not an enabler. I have learned a great deal from your blog. Please keep sending information.
Thanking you in advance. Thank you!

11:11 am June 22nd, 2014

I’ve been with my fiancée for a year. I am a recovering addict myself so I made the mistake of thinking I knew what was going on.
My bf was using benzos when I met him. He would use them to the point of knocking out during a conversation, dinner or anywhere else he was. He then started to get his life together when he met me, or so I thought. He stopped commiting criminal offences for a sustained period of time. Then I found out he was shooting drugs. I had never allowed this to happen during my addiction and put a hard line that this had to stop or else. So he met a girl that allowed fit and have him a place to stay. He started commiting offences and I bailed him out of jail. Every relapse he goes back to the same girls house. Every relapse he takes longer and longer to contact me. If you could offer some advice that would be appreciated.

1:41 am July 21st, 2014

My husband works with his dealer. Have proof. Should I confront him on phone and threaten to tell boss, who is my father in law, even if it means my husband will be exposed?

7:25 am November 8th, 2014

When I divorced over 13 years ago, I received custody of my 3 children ages 1,4,& 6. Over the years, their mother has mentally, emotionally & physically abused them to present; despite my relentless efforts to stop it. My oldest declared he would never do drugs. He started to experiment with pot at 17. When I worked with him and set appropriate boundaries they were broken when he went to his mothers house. When he turned 18, he chose to leave my home because he did not want to live by my rules. He then moved into his mothers rental house rent free. My son is now 22 and has used drugs to the point of possible mental issues. I have listened and offered support with different choices. It seems he is in deep denial of the severe state he is in. The mother is and has been practicing almost all of the enabling behaviors described above. I feel my second child is headed down the same path. I am unsure if there is any thing I can do. Your feedback would be greatly appreciated.

7:08 pm November 19th, 2014

Hello Jeff. I’d suggest that you seek both individual family counseling, or at the least, look into Al-Anon/Narc-Anon for yourself. There may be some major unspoken issues that need to come out of the closet, and a professional psychologist can help you work together with your kids. But seek support for yourself! Get education about options and have hope! You can only control what is in your control (yourself).

2:43 pm December 20th, 2014

my son is mentally ill and an addict. I have been enabling him for more tha 15 years. I decided not to enable him anymore. He is in jail and wants me to use his SSA money to bail him out! He keeps on telling me it’s my money anyway. I don’t know what to do anymore!

1:00 pm December 23rd, 2014

Hello Mercedes. I’m sorry, it must be painful what you are going through. Can you consult with a therapist or a psychologist on what to do in this case. They will be able to give you a more solid advise. If he has a psychological condition and a substance addiction, he needs help and dual diagnosis treatment.

6:55 pm March 10th, 2015

My partner of 20 yrs is still doing heroin and crack still the lies and excuses roll from his mouth with such ease its frightning!!! I’m tired sick to death from it but im ashamed to say i still stick by him and his bs I need help to move on and stay moved on I have no one to talk to its my secret

Leave a Reply

About Lisa Espich

Lisa Espich is the author of the multi award-winning book, Soaring Above Co-Addiction: Helping your loved one get clean, while creating the life of your dreams. For additional articles, resources, and a free preview chapter of Soaring Above Co-Addiction visit her website. Her book is available at bookstores everywhere and at Twin Feather Publishing.