Enabling behaviors and addiction

Signs of enabling behaviors include lost sleep, financial problems and fantasizing. More on how enabling behaviors and addiction are related here (plus, how you can stop enabling!).

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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.

About the author
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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