Woman comforting an addicted loved one

Enabling is a term used to describe the behavior of family and friends when they help an addicted loved one avoid the consequences of their addiction. Allowing a loved one with an addiction is often seen as negative; however, it is possible to help someone without hurting them. When someone close to you is struggling with a drug or alcohol problem, knowing the best ways to help can be challenging, which often causes people to help too much. Knowing how and when to stop enabling an addicted loved one includes setting boundaries, avoiding rescuing and controlling, and focusing on yourself.

What is Enabling?

Enabling is a behavior where a person allows another person to continue a behavior that is not beneficial to them. It is a form of codependency, as it will enable them to keep engaging in harmful behavior without being held accountable for the consequences of their actions. This behavior can happen in any relationship, such as a family, a romantic partnership, or a friendship.

The effects of enabling someone with an addiction can be far-reaching and long-lasting. Enabling a loved one with an addiction can often lead to continued use of the substance, harmful behaviors, and a lack of desire to seek treatment. This can cause other health and social problems, including depression, anxiety, poor work performance, financial instability, and relationship issues.

Additionally, enabling an addiction can lead to poor self-esteem and an increased risk of relapse. Enabling an addict increases the severity of the addiction as the behavior becomes more and more reinforced. Ultimately, enabling someone can have severe negative consequences and should be avoided.

Signs of Enabling Behaviors

Acknowledging how you might be enabling a loved one’s addiction and understanding the dangers of it is crucial for their recovery and overall well-being. Recognizing the signs of enabling behavior is only the first step in addressing it.

Some of the most common signs that you’re enabling someone’s addiction include:

  • Consistently making excuses for someone’s bad behavior
  • Taking on the responsibility of solving their problems
  • Taking the blame for their addictive behaviors
  • Minimizing their addiction
  • Feeling responsible for their physical and emotional well-being
  • Feeling guilty or ashamed if you don’t do what they want
  • Putting their needs above your own
  • Treating them like a child and trying to control the situation
  • Feeling helpless and powerless to create change in the situation
  • Feeling like your own wants and needs don’t matter
  • Giving them money or other resources to fuel their behavior

Identifying enabling behaviors and how they affect the relationship is fundamental to resolving them. Once identified, setting clear boundaries and expectations for the relationship is imperative. Establishing healthy boundaries may include:

  • Expressing your concerns and expectations for their addictive behaviors.
  • Being direct and firm.
  • Not giving in to manipulative behavior.

Additionally, it’s essential to encourage the addict to take responsibility for their actions rather than enabling them to avoid doing so.

Reasons Why We Enable

There are many reasons why people might enable their loved ones who are struggling with drug and alcohol addictions. Family members often feel a sense of guilt or shame that they have caused the habit, and they may think that they need to do whatever they can to help their loved one out of the situation. Additionally, they may feel powerless to change the situation or fear the consequences of not enabling them.

Enabling an addicted loved one can develop a sense of codependency where the enabler needs to feel needed. For many, the desire to help becomes so intense that differentiating between enabling and helping becomes challenging. This progresses into them overpowering and ultimately controlling the addict. Family members and friends can also be in denial about the seriousness of their loved ones’ addiction and think they can help them get better on their own and without rehab.

Often, family members and friends are either unaware of or oppose the proper addiction resources and treatments available to assist and treat their loved ones. It can be challenging to recognize and accept that the person they care about is in the grip of addiction. Furthermore, enabling someone with an addiction can be a way to cope with the stress and anxiety associated with the situation. People must recognize the adverse effects of allowing someone with an addiction and seek professional help for the best outcome.

How to Stop Enabling Someone with an Addiction

Enabling someone with an addiction can damage the individual and those around them. A few ways to stop enabling include establishing boundaries, practicing self-care, and focusing on the person’s well-being rather than the addiction. Practicing self-care can be beneficial for building emotional resilience, which will help you to navigate difficult situations better. It is essential to recognize that enabling behavior can harm both parties involved in the relationship. Focusing on yourself and establishing firm, healthy boundaries will help protect yourself and your loved one.

An article in Psychology Today discusses how showing compassion can help an addicted loved one feel supported without feeling suffocated. Beverly Engel L.M.F.T. says, “Loved ones have often been told that the best way to help their substance-dependent partner or family member is not to help. Those with codependent behavior have often been told to “detach with love” or to practice “tough love.”

Additional ways to stop enabling a loved one’s addiction include addiction resources and treatments. It is not advised or recommended to self-treat a loved one’s addiction. Encouraging your loved one to receive treatment at a drug and alcohol rehab center can get them on the road to recovery. Participating in family counseling or individual therapy is a constructive way to deal with controversial issues, create healthy boundaries, and learn better communication skills.

Resources for Those with Addicted Loved Ones

Support groups like Al-Anon, Codependents Anonymous (CoDA), and Adult Children of Alcoholics/Dysfunctional Families (A.C.A.) are all valuable resources for seeking advice and support through your loved one’s addiction and recovery. Al-Anon is a support group for the loved ones of those with an alcohol use disorder (AUD). Codependents Anonymous (CoDA) is a support group for people that struggle with codependency. Adult Children of Alcoholics/Dysfunctional Families (A.C.A.) is a 12-step program for those who grew up with a family member that struggled with addiction or other issues.

Recognizing the dangers of enabling someone with an addiction is an essential step in helping them to address their addiction. Enabling helps reinforce the addiction, making it more difficult for them to seek the help they need to recover. To provide the best possible support for someone struggling with addiction is essential to be aware of enabling behaviors and the proper steps to avoid them.