Addiction in the family: How to stop enabling behavior

A guide to ending current family dynamics which allow an addict to continue using. Tips on dealing with addiction in the family from someone who’s been there.

minute read

When the addict gets high, does your family stop what they are doing to go into crisis intervention mode? Learn how to stop this behavior and help your loved one by being on the same page with your family. Then, we invite your questions, comments or feedback at the end of the article. In fact, we try to respond to all legitimate inquiries with a personal and prompt reply.

When you want him/her to get clean…

When my husband was going on a drug binge, everything stopped. You could hear the sound of a pin drop in my home while I awaited his call and his safe return. Mothers, fathers, cousins and friends from both our families would stop what they were doing. We all wanted to help my husband get home and get clean. We promised each other that we were on the same side and our goal was to get him help. When things were over we all went our separate ways and continued our personal relationships with the addict as they were before. We started exhibiting classic signs of enablers: I picked up the slack at home with our child, and other responsibilities; his mother kept telling him his addiction was not his fault but his father’s fault; his friends told him he would be fine, he just needed to slow down; and the addict continued to manipulate all of us, just as he did before.

What is enabling?

What are some examples of enabling behavior? Enabling is doing anything that directly or indirectly helps the addict be able to use drugs or alcohol. Examples: 1. If you give the addict money to pay a bill and they actually pay a bill, you are still enabling. If they were not using drugs, they probably would be able to pay their own bills. You are helping them be able to get high by enabling their irresponsibility. 2. If the addict gets kicked out of their home and has no place to go and you let them stay with you, you are enabling their addiction. 3. If you make excuses for their drug abuse like, “He had a rough childhood,” or, “He grew up without a father” or, “He was abused as a child,” then you are enabling. Even if we think we are helping an addict, sometimes this behavior can really be enabling.  Instead of making him or her accountable for their actions you are blaming something else. This puts the addict in the position of victim and they will use this over and over again to play on your sympathies. So, how do you stop enabling?

Make it STOP!

If you are sticking to your boundaries with an addict and someone else in the family keeps posting bail or giving them money or food, then the addict still has a way to get high. An addict will most likely not stop using unless they have to. To STOP the enabling, you must break down its structure or the system that makes it possible. Each person involved in the addict’s life is a part of the enabling structure.  When you start to take away pieces of the structure eventually the structure will fall. To empower the family you must destroy the current system that makes it possible for the addict to use. Here is what you need to know:

Ready for help?
Call us today. You don’t need to face addiction on your own.
  1. This will not work unless everyone is on board.
  2. This will not work if we all say we are remaining strong but one of the family members is secretly helping the addict.
  3. There should be a set of rules and boundaries in regard to dealing with the addict.
  4. Everyone needs to be on the same page at all times.
  5. The first person to break the rules can shatter the progress made.

Realizing Your Part

As hard as it is, every friend and family member must express what they are doing to “help” the addict. You must identify those behaviors and how they are actually helping the addict get high. Once all of the information is out there, then you can set up rules for what appropriate interaction with the addict should be for everyone. For example, no one can provide a place to stay when the addict gets kicked out of their apartment. When talking to the addict on the phone, no one should engage in “victim-like” discussions allowing the addict to place blame for their drug abuse. The rules will help keep your family focused on the end goal; allow the addict to hit rock bottom. The more family and friends that are involved the better the outcome. Some loved ones may think this is hurting or abandoning the addict but you can discuss that end goal is sobriety and in the addict’s best interest.

Get Help

An intervention specialist, a family group therapist, Al-anon, and community support groups are available to help the family. I recommend finding an outside party or a motivated family member to head the initiative. It is helpful to have a go-to person to keep the family on track with knowing what is and what is not enabling behavior. Finally, I recommend that you read the article “Zero Tolerance for Drug Abuse: Lessons for Families” for helpful approaches to take with an addict. And leave any questions your have in the comments section below. I’ll do my best to respond to you ASAP.

About the author
Amanda Andruzzi, MPH, AADP, CHES, is a Certified Health Coach, founder of Symptom-Free Wellness, and the author of Hope Street. Her first book, Hope Street memoir is an inspirational story of one woman's frightening journey of co-addiction that led her to uncover courage, unbelievable strength and overcome great adversity. She resides with her daughter, husband, and two sons in Florida.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

I have read and agree to the conditions outlined in the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

  1. Lana, thank you for sharing your experience here and I am happy you were able to let go of a relationship that was so unhealthy for you.
    You are not wrong or bad for feeling uneasy about the whole situation. Without any help he is not likely to stay sober, if he even really is. Most people just don’t stop heroin one day, abstaining is just will power and that only lasts so long. The Reason you feel like you have a rock in your stomach is because deep down inside you already know everything I am telling you. You are strong and you’ve put up with so much but that doesn’t mean that you have to continue to do that. I know how scary it is to live with someone who uses drugs and brings that lifestyle and behavior into your home in front of your children. It is OK to walk away from that person and allow them to really get help but either way to be OK with or without them. It sounds like you need some confirmation that this feeling You describe is valid. It is! And you have got to go with your gut feeling for your own well-being and as a mother.
    Amanda Andruzzi, published author, Hope Street, a memoir from the wife of an addict View the Video trailer:
    LanaWEDNESDAY, JUNE 21ST, 2017
    From a non-addict’s perspective: I had

  2. Hello. My boyfriend of nearly 12 years and I have 2 kids (7 and almost 2yrs). 2 months ago his mother told me he was doing heroin. I had major denial. I asked him and he said he wasn’t using but he had tried it once. He always smoked marijuana, even though I never liked it and asked him to stop in the past. Eventually I accepted that he did it and that I couldn’t change it. Besides it’s just weed (right?) you know what I mean. So even with that I could not believe he would do heroin. But almost immediately after having this information I thought of all the times in the last year I’ve seen odd behaviors. Not all the time but here and there: picking at his skin and face, having constipation then diarrhea (he always said he has -undiagnosed- IBS), days of being strung out and dehydrated (he said stress with work and anxiety), in the last 2 months I found pieces of hollow pens but they were all squeaky clean, i saw him with the tiniest pupils, I saw him high and realized it definitely was not weed, and we had plenty of normal days in between. I even found a crack pipe. When I asked him about that he just said he used it for weed-it was a broken glass piece. That was when I really was beginning to believe there were problems but I still was in denial and he just had an answer for everything. Over the last 2 months I’d been trying to ask him about his drug use and express my concerns at least once a week. He now says he remembers none of that. I had my first real confirmation (to take me out of my denial) when I was sure he was high on heroin and I asked him to take a home drug test the next morning. He refused. I flipped and packed myself and the kids (and the cat) and we are staying with family. We didn’t speak for 2 days. Then he texted me asking for us to come home. I said we could talk. He admitted to heroin for the last year and a half (at least) and before that he was getting his hand on Percocets. He said it started with an injury in 2011 and then the heroin after a nasty toothache sometime 2016. He said he feels like a weight it lifted and now he can be honest with me. He even said he did the crack when trying to stop heroin. He said he’s better now and doesn’t do it every day anymore – only once a week. For nostalgia. Today is Saturday and he said he hasn’t used since last week before I left. He wants his kids back. I said I don’t feel comfortable in the house with them. He is refusing help. He says he doesn’t need it, can stop on his own, will prove everyone wrong, he needs me and the kids there with him and it’ll be fine. I came back with – we’ve been here this whole time and you’ve been using drugs instead. I feel like every relationship problem we’ve had for the last 10 years or so was probably due to his drug use 🙁 he blames me and our relationship for his drug use. I said to him today I want him to leave the house so the kids can sleep in their beds. He won’t leave. I think he’s still being enabled since he’s staying in the house. He insists he needs us there to recover but he won’t get help in any way. Except to do it on his own and text message an old friend that has been in recovery for several years – because he doesn’t trust anyone else. I’ve given him numbers to call, places to go, centers to speak to. I’m doing my best to avoid repeating the cycles. I don’t know what step to take next. I have support from friends and family that say I’m being strong and doing the right thing. It all feels wrong.

  3. From a non-addict’s perspective:

    I had a friend who had been an old boyfriend but we remained friends for 25 years. When I first met him he had a problem with alcohol. It ruined his first marriage and he was also a sex addict. He went from well-paying corporate jobs to handyman jobs and then couldn’t manage that for a while. For years afterwards I heard every excuse. I tried being his friend still and he said he was remaining sober but I think he constantly relapsed. He’d moved interstate and I knew his voice so well I could tell he was drunk on the phone, but to someone else he may have sounded fine.

    He more or less was high functioning at that point but still had managed to ruin yet another relationship. When the last ex kicked him out of a property he’d been caretaking the mess really hit the fan. He would get abusive and call me (as he’d done so in the past). He’d also had his car disabled so he couldn’t start it without blowing 0.0 into the breathalyser.

    I couldn’t take anymore of his aggressive drunken messages. After the last one I really had to assess why I’d remained friends with him for so long. Yes, we’d had a past but I couldn’t see a future. I told him I no longer wished to be his friend and to stop contacting me. He was extremely shocked. He of course couldn’t remember how abusive he’d become.

    It’s been a few years now and I have no contact. It was a weight and burden off my shoulders, I no longer wanted to feel guilty or wish to be anyone’s punching bag. Some say I was cruel but the diminished feelings I did have left for him made me walk away. It was the last gift I gave him in the hope he’d stop for good. I really don’t care if he’s alive or dead now. I had my own family of origin issues with a brother who became mentally ill partially due to drugs. He passed away suddenly some years back. I guess I got hard – call it self preservation.

    Remember, old friends and family members can be pushed to the point of no return. For those addicts who cannot make the decision to stop – let that be a lesson to you. Addiction is a choice, staying sober is a choice. Every. Single. Day.

  4. 4Years with cycle,cheating ,drugs and alcohol…this year started worse..this month a year ago…i gone thru the old textings,wow ! Sameday today last year…i let him back(December 5,2016) .(but not this time)..this time this year…i am seeing what am i doing! He just left his “female girl friend”.a few days ago, cause i showed up….today he says “im going for help” im embrassing myself…i know & feel the stop to the sore is first or “they were close,couldn’t get help” etc. Right now its…”why you didn’t text me.i was waiting”…will the other woman is still calling him any way she can…today he SWEARs he’s going to change his #( for the 5…7…8th time.) No Dice! I NEED HELP!

  5. My brother has been a difficulty for our family and has had a gambling addiction (bingo/poker) for over 40 years. He’s about 58 now and has become increasingly more angry, belligerent, rude and obnoxious in family situations and personally, no matter what kindnesses we show him. Yes, my 89 year old parents and I have enabled him by fully funding him for years (paying rent for his apartment, gas and car insurance, giving him food) so he doesn’t end up on the street (which he has been on as well as in and out of jail for 10 year of his life). He has some days where life is good and he’s kind and generous – and often he drives my parents to doctor’s appointments and grocery shopping in exchange for gas money, but he’s been chronically unable/unwilling to secure or hold a job for many years due to his difficult personality and criminal background (he was in prison several times from teen years to mid – forties due to petty theft, check forgery, etc.all in an effort to secure money for gambling). We have decided not to fund him any longer, giving him one month to secure a job, and begin to take care of himself financially. I know he’s in a lot of psychological pain, is lonely and mulls over his past and all the wrongs that have been done to him by others (and now he has daily physical problems like severe obesity, gout, high blood pressure and heart issues) and this has also been a factor in him not being able to get his life together. He shuns doctors and goes ballistic if family tries to give him any advice. He admits he has a gambling problem but refuses to get any help… After we set the limit of one month, we know he’ll not follow through. How do we continue to show love and support and not feel the pain of our own worry for him as we watch him eventually lose his home, his possessions, his health and possibly his life? I’ve tried to shield my parents from this as they are not in good health themselves at 89 and have tried to keep things status quo until they depart this world, but it’s not financially possible or psychologically good for anyone to continue what we’ve been doing. I think if my brother began to show any sincere effort to help himself, we could be supportive and drive him to look for work, give him food from our table as we have been, but not more – please, what advice do you have for managing the ‘aftermath’ that will come when we cut off funding his basic shelter? When I go to sleep at night under a blanket and in a bed, I cry that he will not have that basic comfort any more and I worry terribly for him (for I know he will refuse to go to a shelter). It’s cold where we live – please help me cope with these feelings and how to comfort my parents….

  6. Al,
    You are not alone. Heroine is a very destructive drug and it does not stop at destroying the addict, it destroys everything around it as well. There is not much more you can do if your wife is enabling him. If she does not stop enabling him he will go right on using. It is difficult for parents to admit they are part of the problem. they want to help, they want to fix and heal and what they end up doing is prolonging the addiction instead of allowing the addict to hit bottom. It is scary to let someone destroy themselves especially when you know it could result in homelessness or even death but each addict must come to the conclusion they need to stop on their own. I am glad you found this article because you understand what needs to be done and you are able to understand that you have to let your son go but unfortunately your wife does not. It may take her time and he may have to do something really bad to make her realize it.
    I would stick to your boundaries and try therapy with your wife as well as al-anon. If she is willing, it would be helpful for her to work with someone who specializes in addiction, she needs to see she is an enabler. Once she realizes that she cannot do anything to fix him, you may both be on the same page at which time you can help one another help your son by creating an environment that does not allow him to use and does not make it easier for him. I would forward my articles to her, there are many more, just click on my name Amanda Andruzzi next to my picture and 30 articles will come up, send her, “8 Signs you are a Co-addict,” “Zero Tolerance for Drug Addiction: Help for Families,” and this one. You need to take your family back and align yourselves again as a unit if there is any chance to stop enabling your son and help him realize he needs help.
    Keep your boundaries with him, you will not support him or his drug use and you love him but you will not support him unless he is ready for recovery. There are usually psychic scars and childhood traumas that may contribute to drug abuse or underlying mental health issues. It is important that your son not just stop using but have family support in understanding why he used in the first place, why drugs were attractive to him and what feelings was he trying to avoid. You have a hard road ahead of you Al but it can be done. Getting the support of a therapist for you and your wife and attending al-anon meetings or other community support groups may be a great way for you both to be on the same page and learn how you can really move on. I hope this helps. Keep me posted.
    Amanda Andruzzi, published author, Hope Street, a memoir from the wife of an addict
    View the Video trailer:

  7. My son is a full blown heroine addict , has been for years. Till the day he lies , steals and manipulates. Knowing that I do not condone this as his dad , he has pitted and played my wife against me going on 10-12 years. He is 27. I`ve read it`s the Momma`s boy ” drug. Very fitting in my situation. His mom buys everything he does. She enables and he manipulates her and others. He is the absolute biggest liar. Never has any money and has drained the family on many fronts including financially. He works but never has any money. Wife owns his vehicle and he lives rent free with his mom. After all I`m not the odd man out now. My wife moved out and he moved in with her. I want my wife back! My marriage! I`ve always wanted my son to get clean and be successful. Unfortunately as long as he`s in the picture my marriage is gone. He does everything to keep us apart . You see my wife is in denial , she enables , she complains , she sees the signs , etc. Yet she enables. I ask her this : “He works a job , and you complain he never helps with bills and yet lives with you. Where is all his money?” . He constantly is getting in brushes with the law and recently my wife knew about a arrest but hid it from me. Heroine destroys families! The whole family has PTSD I swear from all the crap that came with his addict . Jail , hospital , losses and confrontations to name a few. To the point none of us can interact right with each other now. Truly grabs a person and does not let go. Heroine took my son and my family.

  8. Samuel,
    None of this is easy. I know that firsthand. However, if you allow the addict to live with you while he is still using, what message does that send? That simply means the addict does not have to stop using. You do not have to kick the addict out immediately, you can have a plan. Please read my other article “Zero Tolerance for Drug Addiction: Help for Families” (click on my name Amanda Andruzzi at the top and all my articles will pop up) because it will help you come up with a step-by-step plan to help the addict and keep boundaries.
    You can let the addict know that if they want a place to stay, they must be in recovery. Unfortunately, sometimes being on the street may be the wake up call an addict needs to get help. It is not an easy choice because it can go either way, they can go deeper into their addiction and things may get so bad, they may overdose or die. We do not know what will happen and that is scary, but we know that enabling and what we are currently doing is not working right?, or we would not be where we are, at this point.
    Again, none of this is easy but we have to do what is best for ourselves and what could be potentially best for the addict. Every family and situation is different but an addict needs help and that will never change and if they refuse help and we help them stay sick, what does that tell them? I am here to help, I hope you find use in the other articles here.
    Amanda Andruzzi, published author, Hope Street, a memoir from a co-addict.

  9. What if the addict was kicked out from his or her apartment? Would still the family let him to live in the street? What if the addict found another addicts on the street? That could be the time that he or she will not turn to his or her family anymore. We all know that it takes the decision of the addict to turn away from addiction to undergo recovery in a rehab facility. For me, this is a very challenging situation that needs patience and consistency.

I am ready to call
i Who Answers?