Am I part of the problem? How to stop enabling addiction

If someone that you love is in active addiction, what do you do? An explanation of three (3) behaviors to avoid here, with a section at the end for your questions.

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Part of the problem with enabling is that the behaviors feel so much like help. Learn to identify three (3) enbaling behaviors here. Then, we invite your questions or messages about how to quit enabling an addict at the end.

How to stop enabling addiction?

No one who has a loved one with a substance abuse problem wants them to suffer. No one wants a person they care about to be in pain, to descend into the dysfunction of addiction, to lose their livelihood, their family, their life.

How many times have you heard someone say, “I would do anything to help them?”

We protect, we cover, we shelter, we defend and we do so in the name of loving and caring. The problem is that the very things we are doing to help someone, may be things that are enabling the addiction and keeping them from getting well. These may also be things that we are doing because it is more comfortable for us than dealing with the facts of the situation – and it we truly want someone to get well, sometimes we have to get worse first!

So, how do you know if you’re an enabler?

How do you know if you are enabling someone’s substance abuse? We may engage in a lot of behaviors that we think are helpful, or that we are told are necessary but if you start to dig deeper into what that action is all about you find it perpetuating or masking the problem – not solving it!

3 tips to identifying enabling

Here are three tips to help identify enabling behaviors and signs of an enabler. But take hope! You’ll also find alternatives to truly help improve the situation throughout the text!

1.  Interfering

It may seem like pouring out the alcohol, hiding the car keys, or throwing away the pills is the best way to keep your loved one from using. It will certainly force them to get more creative about where they keep their substance of choice and what lies they have to craft to hide their behavior. What is won’t do is cure them of their addiction, or convince them that what they are doing is wrong or harmful.

If their behavior is going to create a dangerous situation for you then you have to make the choice to keep yourself safe, interfering with how they engage in their addiction just provides opportunities for them to get smarter about how they use and you are teaching them how to be a better addict!

2.  Hiding and lying

Do you cover up for your partner? Do you make excuses for their behavior? Are you doing this for you or for them? Maybe you tell yourself I have to cover for them at work otherwise they will lose their job, then we will lose our house, etc. But deep inside, the true motivation may be fear of change.

In reality, you are helping them hide their behavior for your convenience, and you are helping them carry-on without having to deal with the reality of the situation. Maybe you are going to have to move, maybe you are going to have to ask for help and tell people what is going on, maybe you won’t be able to stay with this person anymore. Those are all uncomfortable situations, and they are all consequences of being involved with an addict. You have to be willing to confront the reality of a situation for everyone involved in order to address whatever that situation is.

3.  Compensating for the behavior

Money, food, computers, cars – do you give these to someone with a substance abuse problem? How many times do you give someone a computer because they have to have a computer to find a job, and they have to have a job to get sober, but they keep relapsing, selling the computer for drugs and staying in the cycle? How many times do you buy a new car for someone who keeps crashing under the influence? How much money do you give knowing that it won’t be used for rent?

None of us want the people we love to be homeless, to be hungry. We don’t want them to suffer, but when we protect them from experiencing the suffering they are in we take away the opportunity for them to make a decision about changing!

Give an addict room to take responsibility

REMEMBER: Enabling an addict does not help!

Enabling is really about preventing someone for having to take responsibility for themselves, and whether it is done with good or bad intentions it prevents the other person from fully living their own life. Moving out of enabling behaviors and into a relationship where you let someone experience the natural consequences of their choices isn’t easy, and often it can make it seem like things are much worse. But only if someone experiences for themselves the desire to do something different will there ever be a change, and that experience can’t come if we prevent our loved ones from having it!

Are you an enabler?

Do the above scenarios sound close to home? Please leave us a message in the comments section below and we’ll do our best to respond to you personally and promptly. We can help refer you to support services, treatment, or the help that you need. Or, we’ll just lend an ear.

About the author
Maggie Harmon is a writer, speaker, leadership coach and business consultant who approaches every engagement through a holistic understanding of the situation. Her consulting practice focuses on deeply understanding who or what you are and what you want to achieve, and from there helping to create a plan, develop tools, and access resources that let you get where it is you want to go, and do what you do, better! You can connect with her here or via Maggie's Blog.


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  1. As a parent with a young adult addict, I wonder how to work out issues when spouses do not agree about decisions related to our 20 yr old daughter (who lives with us)? It seems that a united “front” seems important but one of us plays the tough role while the second is much more lenient.

  2. My husband was on 10mg Percocet. He is in allot of pain and he wanted to up the dose to 15mg. His doctor would not do it without my consent. My husband ask me to keep the meds and give them to him when he was supposed to have them (qid), I am a retired nurse and I know about enabling. I did not know he had a drug problem when we got married 11 yrs. ago. I knew something was wrong on our Honeymoon, but I had no idea it was drugs. Over the past 11 years we have had episodes, but now he has had to stop work. Last year I had 2 surgeries that kept me down almost the entire year. He took care of me. I know I have used blinders because I know all about Ala-Non. My first husband had a problem with alcohol and he died with cancer. My husband said he was leaving me today because I would not let him have his drugs. HE is in a great deal of physical pain, but I know he wants to get high as well. I know you hear this often but, he is a wonderful man and he has been so good for and to me. I have known him almost all our lives. When he runs out of meds he does not get them off the street. He mostly stays in bed or mopes around the house in a great deal of pain and withdrawal until his next rx is due. He is on 15mg Percocet 4 per day. He, of course, promised not to shoot them up. I have been giving him the pills in peanut butter. I found him this morning in the bathroom. He has been sucking the P-nut butter off and then shooting the meds. He gave me (what he said were) all the needles when I caught him. But, about an hour ago, he asked for another pill and I gave it mashed up in a shot glass of tea. He told me he wanted his meds back and I said no! So he said it had been coming for a long time and he was leaving. He told me he did not love me and he was leaving as soon as he could find a place to go. I read your advice on not enabling him by doling out the meds. So I just gave him the rest of them. He took several when he got them filled and I do not know what he did with the rest. So, what now!

  3. Why aren’t there guides or recommendations from any source that lay HEALTHY ways to stay in a relationship with an addict that tell what to do, instead of labeling everything as codependent? If you read enough oh these, you will find that in almost every area of difficulty with living with a recovering addict, the ending recommendation is ALWAYS to leave?
    How do you stay, regain your sense of yourself and disentangle yourself from the codependent cycles?
    It’s possible, I’m doing it, and at the end, there’s been a lot gained by staying and learning how to stop the conversational issues that are at the root of miscommunication and/or less and mistrust.
    It’s just that you can’t find advice on this viewpoint.

  4. i have enabled my son for a decade, always thinking if I help him just this one last time he’ll get his act together. (he’s got duel diagnosis after all)…Over a dozen stays at detox, rehabs, sober houses, bailed out of jail, lawyers fees, court fines, sending him money for food, buying him a car, 2 years paying his rent till he got a job (he never did get a job and destroyed the apartment) I paid for the damage. He’s lived on the street under a bridge… whats a mother to do? The maternal instinct to help is SO POWERFUL. Now I am faced with more bailout choices. He now faces jail again, then what ? he becomes homeless and dies on the street. The stress is too much. I am an enabler! I need to stop… it’s killing me.

  5. This is a great post and something I actually feel like I deal with a lot now as a mentor and sponsor to other sober people. In the five years I have been in recovery my approach to mentoring newly sober addicts have changed a lot. At first I did so much enabling thinking that I was helping. I would give people rides everywhere, pay for food all the time, and take people in when they told me some BS story. I would also chase them down to do their step work. As I have noticed these behaviors and talked to my own mentors about them, I have changed how I do things so much. I am able to more easily see when people don’t want help but attention. I can tell when someone wants to do the work or just wants to feel like they are. I no longer chase people down but let them come to me and I find the most motivated people are the ones who really do the work and want help. It is sooo hard to walk this line but it has been a very important part of my journey.

  6. I’m an enabler and it breaks my heart every day, I want him to leave but am to scared of what he will do, and even more scared that he won’t go. I feel broken that I can’t stand up to him. The constant lies. I have 3 boys and I’m so scared they will think this is how u treat a woman. He has never physically hurt me but emotionally I am wounded!

  7. As soon as i want to leave, he changes and it might get better for months, then it starts again. Its gotten worse, he now takes money from his work, and i have to pay it back, because i dont want him to ho to jail, or my kids to have to go through that humiliation, and i know his employer, and i did not tell them he has this problem as he was clean when he started there. Other people warned him, and i denied it, because i believed he wanted to make a change and start over. I told my friends he went for an implant, because i could not take the humiliation of forgiving him again for no good reason. He had destroyed me financially and emotionally. I am paying of a lawyer because i was going to leave him, cancelled 2 restraining orders. My lawyer got irritated with me for not sticking to my guns. Cancelled divorce and lost all that money. Now i have told her to start the process again. I dont have money to get another place and he is not going to move out untill the fivorce is final or i get another restraining order. He falsely accsusing me of things i would never do and he believes himself and is now using this as an excuse for using, saying i ruined his life and verbally abuses me that my heart aches. We have 2 girls , the eldest turning 8 this year, big enough to start crasping, and feeling the humiliation of her friends snd teachers finding out about this. Must i just move out with them and live in a one bedroom place untill divorce through or i get a restraining order,let him sell everything in the house again which he will do. Or do i stay untill i can get a restraining order, if they are going to grant it as i have cancelled 2.?

  8. My husband of 13 years left me and his son who is 11 about five years ago. He is an addict and move with another women and now wants to come home

  9. this article was a punch in the gut.
    I have enabled my son and it is so painful to watch him fall to the degree he has fallen.
    I have gone to Alanon, I am not doing anything right now for me. Its only been a week and I am in a deep depression because I know this time I cannot and must not let him come back, this is very real right now. I think I am almost ready to get help for me now.
    I realize I don’t know how to live my life without the constant distractions of my sons drama.

  10. Hi I was an enabler to my son until over a year ago, I broke away to give him a chance to change but all he did was move from me his partner and now she is doing the same, it breaks my heart to watch as they now have a baby and his situation has become worse, he says he wants to change but I believe his partner is not helping him make better choices. Please help as I am a a loss as to what to do!!!
    Look forward to your response
    Many thanks Susan

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