What Enabling an Addict Looks Like: Ten Signs You’re Enabling Your Loved One

Mother with daughter

Enabling behavior, in the sense of one’s relationship with a drug or alcohol addict, is behavior that supports the loved one’s addiction. Behavior or actions that prevent the addicted loved one from accepting the consequences for their actions—like supporting them each time they stumble—is, in effect, making it easier for them to continue using drugs and alcohol.

All too often, the family members of addicts act in ways that enable their addicted loved ones to continue using drugs and alcohol. The following section outlines ten ways in which behavior that seems like care and support instead enables the addict to continue using drugs and alcohol.

Ten Ways Families Enable Drug or Alcohol Addiction

1). Denial. When the loved ones of addicts convince themselves that their loved ones are not “that bad off” or that things could be “a lot worse,” they are, in effect, denying that their loved one is suffering from addiction. Denial allows the addict to continue using because their loved ones are not coming out of denial and insisting the addiction be confronted head-on.

Father drinks beer with his son – enabling

2). Using alcohol with them. When a loved one is addicted to alcohol, trying to “empathize” or “bond” with them by drinking with them is another form of normalizing that person’s addictive behavior, thus enabling them to continue the behavior. One should never drink or use drugs around an addict for any reason.

3). Keeping the peace. When family members of addicts “keep the peace” in the home by never having difficult conversations with their loved ones about their drinking or drug use, they are giving the addict a free pass to go on using their drug of choice. Nothing will ever change if this status quo persists.

4). Protecting their image. Defending an addicted loved one to others who may have a clearer view of the situation and who aren’t afraid to bring it up is also enabling behavior. Coming to an addicted loved one’s defense regarding their drug or alcohol use serves to normalize their behavior, reducing the clear urgency of the need for them to change that behavior.

5). Taking over their responsibilities. When an addict cannot meet their responsibilities, whether home-related, career-related, school-related, or family-related, a loved one enables them by stepping in and doing things for them that they could and should be doing. When an addict leans on a loved one, they skate by and avoid responsibility for their behavior.

6). Believing things will “get better.” Simply chalking up an addict’s drinking or drug use to a “difficult time in life” is also a form of enablement, as it allows the addict to continue using without repercussion.

7). Tolerating their behavior. Assigning independent agency to a loved one who is addicted and assuming that “they’re an adult who can make their own decisions, they’ll get over this,” is another form of enablement because it gives them the freedom to continue using without anyone telling them enough is enough.

Family talks about bills

8). Providing financial assistance. Paying bills for an addict and giving them cash when they have no money will ultimately help them “get by for another day” to keep using drugs. Supporting them financially effectively shields them from seeing the real harm their drinking and drug use has caused them.

9). Protecting them from the law. When drug addicts or alcohol addicts break the law, such actions could be the crucible moment that pushes them toward realizing they need to get help for their addiction. However, if a family member or loved one steps in and protects them from the consequences of that law-breaking, they are potentially missing an opportunity for the addict to see the real effect of their actions.

10). Providing support that is not addiction treatment when an addict “needs help.” Addicts may ask for a place to stay the night, to borrow a car, to borrow a cell phone, for a loan, for electronics, valuables, or a character witness. Any time a loved one of an addict provides help and support that does not result in that addict finding and entering a qualified addiction treatment center, they effectively enable that individual’s unhealthy behavior to continue.

How to Help, Not Enable

It can be challenging to discern the difference between enabling actions and actions that truly help an addict improve. However, there is a distinction. Actions taken by family members and loved ones that are firm, compassionate, and which help the addict recognize the consequences of their behavior are helpful. Actions that family members and loved ones of addicts take which bring the addict closer to seeking treatment are helpful.

To break away from enabling behavior and move toward helpful behavior, take the following steps:

1). Explain the problem. The first step to halting enabling behavior is to explain the problem to the addict, to clarify that their drug use or drinking is unacceptable and will no longer be tolerated. One must also explain to them that no help or support will be provided until the individual agrees to seek treatment.

2). Create boundaries. Part of helping an addicted loved one revolves around putting up boundaries with them. That could mean refusing to let them into the home when they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol or making them move out until they agree to get help.

Helping with addiction

3). Don't provide financial assistance. There is rarely a good reason to give an addict money. When one is addicted to drugs and alcohol, their addiction is the most important aspect of their life. Any money they receive will ultimately secure more drugs and alcohol for them to use.

4). Let them face the consequences. This can be painful and difficult, but addicts cannot be forced to stop using drugs and alcohol and will not seek help until they fully understand the gravity of their situation. Part of helping an addict is allowing them to face the consequences of their actions rather than covering for them or protecting them.

5). Help them get better when they are ready. As soon as an addict is ready to get help—and they truly mean it—that is the time to step in and help them.

Addicts Need Qualified Addiction Treatment to Get Better

Any form of drinking or drug use carries immense risks and health harms, even if the individual can stop independently. However, compulsive drinking and drug use will require professional help to overcome. When one cannot stop using drugs or alcohol on their own, their family members and loved ones need to help them seek out and enter a qualified, residential drug treatment program. Only with a safe environment, support, tools, educational help, counseling, life skills, and healthy coping strategies offered at a treatment center can the individual break free from the underlying issues that led them to use drugs and alcohol in the first place.

If your loved one has reached this point in their drinking or drug use, please be mindful of any behavior you may be exhibiting that enables them to continue using drugs and alcohol. Further, please do everything you can to help them enter a qualified residential drug rehab center as soon as possible. Please don’t wait until it is too late.


Editorial Staff