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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. 

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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.

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33 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

1:16 am April 28th, 2015

I am dating someone who is still divorcing after 8 years, owes about $30000 in child support and has some student debt and a little credit card debt and owes an accountant and hasn’t done taxes for about 3 years. I stopped him from moving in recently as I felt that so much chaos seemed to surround him and i began to feel emotionally tired and have loaned him $13000 which i feel he’ll pay back when the family trust is sorted. I stopped him moving in and have taken a big step back in the reltatoinship which is now long distance. I feel he’s doing better without me in the picture much and will not lend him any more money. Do I need al-anon?

1:50 pm April 28th, 2015

Hi Fiona. I believe that critical situations like yours need a professionals help. We simply cannot handle everything on our own, and shouldn’t even try to. So, it helps to have someone with a cold head and professional experience guide you through.

10:16 am September 15th, 2015

My life is a nightmare. My husband is an addict. I am discovering I’m the enabler. I hear the same lies over and over. How he’s “ready” and at “rock bottom” so I have allowed him back home long enough to catch an STD twice ( curable, but still) and even let him sleep on the couch “believing his lies about wanting to get help and how he’s reached rock bottom again, and again. He’s been sleeping outside on a park bench, like a dog cause I took the hard ass approach, and thought that would be his wake up call.

Now I am discovering I’m just going in circles. After becoming the sole bread winner, and the married single mother of our two young children. I’m exhausted. I don’t have time for him to be selfish!! I’m so angry! After cleaning bed bugs out of my home for weeks the last time he came around “all better now” I hit the breaking point. My resentment for his behavior is growing, my anger has reached an all time high, yet I feel wrong, and guilty for even considering abandoning him!!

11:41 am September 21st, 2015

Im ready to be clean and sober but I have nowhere to live im fighting ptsd bad. My family is backed off and does nothing but say cruel crap?. How do I get started again? I wanted to stay at my parents but they say no? Im broke how do I get anywhere?

3:56 pm October 19th, 2015

Hello Tucker. You can search online for a available addiction treatment. Just visit SAMHSA’s treatment locator and find the kind of help that fits your needs best. Here’s the link to the treatment locator:

3:01 pm December 21st, 2015

My partner is alcohol dependant, i am just discovering i am an enabler, i work in caring proffession and thought i was helping but im upset to discover im helping the person i love most in the world to carry on, being in the caring profession its going to be really hard to let him take responsiblities after his drinking., but i must if want to really help him. Have made choice to go to al-anon and or some books on co-dependancy

Lydia @ Addiction Blog
9:28 pm December 21st, 2015

Hi, Alison. I’m really glad that you discovered yourself as an enabler, and codependent. Also, we did some books reviews on our site, so here is the data of them:
Hope you’ll find something helpful.
Good luck!

2:48 am January 3rd, 2016

I have had 8 major surgeries in the last 3 yrs (first one was brain surgery that had many complications and I suffered 2 major strokes) My husband was always a drinker, but became a really major drinker during this time and resentful of my health issues. He would never come to the hospital and began to look around for someone else. hospitals. and left me. We are now getting a divorce and he is living with his new love and her father. He has turned into a real alcoholic and smokes dope every night and I do not know what else. Before my illness I put up with so much because I loved him so much. I guess that I am a real enabler, but I am hurting so very bad and I wonder if I can ever heal from this.

7:56 am January 18th, 2016

My boyfriend is 58 and a herion addict.. We have been together for 10 years and I’m so tired of all this stuff. I need help

Lydia @ Addiction Blog
7:06 pm January 18th, 2016

Hi, Robin. Remember that you are important, and now, you can put yourself on the first spot of your life. It’s difficult to be in a situation like yours, but stay strong…It’s your life, and you deserve better. Here’s a list of suggested reading: Hope you’ll find something useful!

8:15 pm January 18th, 2016

My daughter’s husband of less than a year and father to her baby boy lost job, home they lived in all due to drug addiction along with some mental issues. My issue is that he has been sober, so he says for a few months and wants to see her and the baby. she has no part in his recovery due to a protection of abuse order that is up to three years. My question is why would a counselor suggest that she participate in his recovery? she has been pressured by him to allow this while supposedly recovering…should she really participate even though there was past problems with anger and threats??

1:09 am January 31st, 2016

My boyfriend is addicted to fentynol, we have been together for almost 2 years, we live together and we also have a fur baby a wonderful cat. I moved in with him in September and realized that he was doing drugs cocaine once in a while with friends and then all of a sudden he was spending 60$ every 2 days on pills and it’s been devestating, he pays the rent and we split the groceries, he has a good paying job and is never late on rent etc. However the last few months he has been taking my bank card and taking out 60 here 120 there, I am a student and have my own bills, tuition, car, cell phone, parking, and life expenses and lately I’ve having to pick up the slack for him and it’s been difficult. I love him and he says he will try to be better but he makes me feel guilty when he asks me for money and I say no, he tells me I am hard to love and that its my fault we don’t have an intimate relationship, He often takes my car and I always worry he just won’t come back, he alway does and he tells me he loves me but I can’t emotionally, mentally, or financially maintain this type of relationship but I have a hard time dealing with the way he treats me, my heart breaks everyday 🙁 I’m 24 have a good job and go to school full time a great family and friends but I feel incredibly alone 🙁

3:27 pm April 19th, 2016

How do I stop enabling my addict daughter when she is badgering me to say for instance, call the pharmacy or her dr because she ran of her meds to early. If I am at work she will just keep ringing my phone. Then when I get home she will keep at me until I do what she needs.

Lydia @ Addiction Blog
3:50 pm April 22nd, 2016

Hi Elenor. It all depends from the person. You need to be strong, and start saying ‘no’. Here’s suggested reading on the topic:

11:40 pm May 28th, 2016

I have been with my husband over 30 years – over half of it dealing with active addiction. I am so exhausted from this all. I try so hard not to say anything about how hurt I am. It always turns into an argument and I’m always on the losing end. I try so hard to make him understand that he is depriving me of him when he’s high or drunk. His response is usually: Huh, I’m right here with you! Last weekend he went to a friends on Friday night and came home drunk and high. I was very upset and, of course, I let him know (even though I try and not say anything- it’s hard!) So, this Friday he stayed home with me, smoked pot every time he went out for a cigarette, and drank a half of liter of vodka. I was less than thrilled with our evening “together,” and he plays dumb and acts like I’m crazy because after all, he stayed home with me! I understand addiction and detachment but am having a really difficult time knowing how to set a boundary. Right now my boundaries seem to be that if he gets high the consequence is that I’m upset, hurt, angry and unable to be loving toward him. i love my husband so much and I want to be together, but right now together is difficult because I’m exhausted from not knowing how to set boundaries and living with the consequences.

11:44 pm May 28th, 2016

What does a healthy boundary look like for me to set with my pot smoking husband who smokes pot on a very regular basis. I’m always so angry about it, I can’t bite my tongue hard enough to keep from saying anything!

8:01 pm June 16th, 2016

thanks for the advice. In 19 months my husband has been arrested 3 times. The police are saying to move and change my phone number. But, I haven’t been answering any calls from jail for this cycle to continue over and over again…. Jail,relapse,rehab, jail, relapse, jail …. I love my husband and am a 7 year sober recovering alcoholic. I’m afraid for my life when he’s high and have been told to get a separation but I understand alcohol addiction. I’m reluctant to go to al-anon because I feel as though all my thoughts and energy are devoted to my husband and I keep taking him back everytime. I’m beginning to wonder if he and his mother are using me as a method to keep him off the street. He was sentenced to 4 months in prison and dread the day he’ll be released because I’ve been through this now for the third time and we haven’t even been married a year. I know an intervention won’t work, an addict is ready when they’re ready so for now, I’m not accepting calls as much as he says he loves me on my voicemail messages. I don’t know what to do. I’ll never know what is rock bottom is so for now…. No talking to him from jail. Another thing is that he was using in jail. How am I supposed to know when he really means it this time around. I’ve gotten through this terrible period in my life with God. I’m on sick leave from work since last year after he was physically abusive with me. Is there any hope for us? I don’t give him money he sells things that I’ve bought him and feel like he goes out on the loose and comes back when he’s out of money. He lasted 4 days after his release from jail. Should I give up? I want to go to an al-anon meeting but feel like I’m always talking or thinking about him. Is there hope for me? Or is he using me like a hotel? When do I say that’s it…. He’s reached the point of no return and just move on. Not with anyone else. This whole experience has traumatized me from ever being in a relationship again. I love him with all my heart because I was a heavy drinker that quit before we met. Can he possibly change at 35? Will it make it worse if I separate? Im sticking to our marriage vows but his mistress is crack. Please help

5:55 pm March 10th, 2017

My husband is addicted to opioids. He also drinks and smokes marijuana. We have an appointment with an addictionologist next week. He thinks that being on the suboxone is the miracle he is looking for. The drinking and pull taking is more apparent on his days off. He stays up still 1:30-2am which disrupts my sleep. I am scared he will pass out and the kids will find him in the morning. He is looking forward to getting the help needed, I just don’t know how to handle seeing him buzzed up at night once our kids are asleep. I am angry and disappointed!

8:38 am April 16th, 2017

My husband is a cocaine addict and he’s recently been reaching out for help. He’ll be good for a month or 2 then relapse. I work night shift so at times he’ll stay out till 7am. He tells me it’s because he’s out doing Coke but he’ll never admit to anything else. I’ve screamed, argued, cried, begged, and calmly talked to him about how his behavior is affecting our family and it’s always the same promises. He’ll do good for a few weeks then relapse. It’s a viscous cycle. I’ve found out from this site that I am an enabler, I hardly fall through with my threats and there is much responsibility that I am carrying, but i figuired that this is how most of our relationship has been anyways. We recently reached out for help to my parents and they are supportive, but my husband relapsed yesterday and I’m just sad and drained. I need answers, I need guidance. Im scared we are not gonna make it through this and it scares me that I could possibly be dealing with this hurt my whole life with him… you mention setting boundaries but I need more clarification, for example. If he stays out late again he needs to leave the house. How realistic is that? I just feel so helpless, is appreciate any advice.

6:53 pm July 22nd, 2017

Hi. I have been in a relationship that started when I was 14 and off and on for a few years until we met again 20+ yrs ago. We have been together this time for over 20yrs. I was just getting on my feet from another AH and just got my own apt for me and my son. I was happy and I was not so sick. I just had insomnia at that time. Then my bf parents moved out of state and he had no where to go and asked if he could stay with me until he could find a place.. I told him if he stayed with me and my son that there is no drinking or drugs, find a job and move out. Well I folded and let him stay even though he got a job I knew he couldn’t live on so little money. I should have let him go then but I thought he grew up from what he had gone through. Of course that didn’t happen. I bought a home on my own and he came along which was good for me since he helped with the rent. He has had this job dor 15 yrs but he hates it. I think he quit yesterday and going to visit (maybe sneak out with his prized possessions like he has twice before) his dad up north. I know Im not doing him any favors by being an enabler/co-dependent. I love him dearly and he knows alk about my apst and my struggles. When he is sober we enjoy our time together but wr have not intimate for two years or more since I found out he was on a hook up site when he traveled up north. To make things worse for me I have been disabled for15 yrs. and my guilt of not being intimate made me overlook that he was looking to hook up when he was gone up north (Tuesday am to Thursday pm). I have chronic insomnia, pain 24/7 and the worst symptom is compete, utter exashastion to the point I can not do anything for more than a few minutes. I resent that I have to take medication for my “symtoms” that only work maybe 40% of the time. I have looked for doctors of all types and have spent tens of thousands of dollars looking for the cure or even a diagnosis of what is wrong with me. I have not found a doctor will try to to see if I have MS or Lupus or something else. I get worse by the day. THAT is why I feel SO guilty wanting to have my bf leave. He has been doing all the shopping and has taken on a lot of responsibility but his drinking got him arrested a few weeks ago for assult in some bar. I thought that would have woke him up but it didn’t. If he leaves I know I will be alone and not look for any relationship…I can not go anywhere anyways so the chances of me finding a good person with my disability is so unlikely and I know it.
My bf drinking is extreme, vodka and a lot of it and sober for two weeks. That is his pattern. He has black outs or says he does. He drinks on Fridays and then doesn’t help with the house but barely goes grocery shopping but that’s because he needs food for the week…he is a big rig driver.
When he leaves I will lose my best friend. Due to being sick, most of my friends have faded away so I am alone. I know he is not good for me and I also know he is a good person. He just doesn’t want to get sober. I feek it’s because of my lack of intimacy along with all the other things I can no longer do with him like before. I often think he simply doesn’t love me enough.
My biggest fear is that when he is gone I will break and start begging him to come back…I did that twice and I don’t want it to happen again. I can not find a support group and I can not afford to pay a counselor. It ts so easy for me to break down and I don’t want to do that again…even if it means I will be alone until I die. I don’t know if anyone has a good idea because I have heard them all. If you haven’t luved it how can anyone understand it…?
Thank you for your time.

1:05 pm October 20th, 2017

My son has gotten out of rehab, he went voluntarily. He is physically disabled and has no money. He needs a ride to the social security office and food stamps office to get theses services reinstated. Is my giving him a ride to these agencies considered enabling him or am I supporting his desire to be clean. I currently take him to doctor, dentist and therapy appointments.

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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.

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