How to Stop Enabling Your Loved One’s Addictions
Whether you are a spouse, friend, or family member, loving someone that is struggling with addiction can be hard when it comes to providing them the support they need.
What is Enabling?
Enabling is defined as the process by which a person contributes to the self-destructive or compulsive behavior of another person.1 Instead of helping someone who is struggling with addiction, an enabler may find themselves inadvertently promoting or permitting their loved one’s continued substance misuse.1 For instance, helping a person with alcohol use disorder may involve you setting clear boundaries and following through on them, such as not allowing them to stay in your home if they drink or bring in alcohol. On the other hand, enabling may consist of you purchasing your loved one’s drug of choice for them or even using it with them, making excuses for their addictive behaviors, and more.2
Enabling behaviors may fall into several categories, some of which include:3
- Denial, such as assuming that your loved one can control their addiction or accepting blame for their alcohol or drug use.
- Using drugs or alcohol with your loved one.
- Taking over your loved one’s responsibilities, such as childcare, bills, and other obligations.
- Minimizing or ignoring the extent of their alcohol or drug use.
- Avoiding problems, such as not mentioning their alcohol or drug use to “keep the peace.”
- Justifying their substance use or making excuses for them.
It is normal to fall into adaptive, enabling behaviors when it comes to your loved one who is struggling with addiction.4 For instance, you might find yourself providing financial assistance or taking on more than your share of responsibilities for them. Regardless of how the enabling manifests, anyone can find themselves falling into these behaviors, especially when there are feelings of guilt, fear, or even hope that they will eventually get better as long as you keep helping them. However, by identifying enabling behaviors, you will be able to better assist your loved ones’ recovery from drugs or alcohol.
Why Do We Enable Our Loved Ones?
People enable their loved ones for many reasons. If you are worried about your loved one using alcohol or drugs irresponsibly or engaging in addictive behaviors, you are not responsible for fixing them or saving them from the consequences of their substance abuse issues. However, certain necessary actions can help you preserve your mental health and protect your loved one (without enabling them).
Many families that are affected by substance misuse feel the need to maintain a sense of normalcy or homeostasis.4 Family members often behave as though things are normal to keep the family functioning as it usually does, and this may entail supporting their loved one’s substance misuse to avoid what they perceive as instability or imbalance.5 Unfortunately, this type of dynamic can result in the development of unhealthy patterns, rituals, relationships, and roles within families.4
Signs You Are Enabling Addiction
Some of the signs that you are enabling your loved one’s addiction include:3,4
- Accepting blame for their alcohol or drug use or minimizing their addiction.
- Using alcohol or drugs with them to monitor and limit their intake.
- Engaging in caretaking responsibilities due to their drunkenness or drug use, such as caring for them, taking care of their children, or cleaning their home.
- Treating your loved one like a child and attempting to control the situation.
- Justifying their alcohol or drug use despite the harmful consequences.
- Agreeing with or affirming their rationale when it comes to their addiction.
How to Stop Enabling Someone with Addiction
If you are worried that you are enabling someone with addiction, you are not alone. Fortunately, there are several resources available, such as:6,7
- Al-Anon, a mutual-help group for family members and loved ones of people with an alcohol use disorder.
- Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA), a fellowship for people in recovery from codependency.
- Adult Children of Alcoholics/Dysfunctional Families (ACA), a 12-step program for people who grew up in families with addiction or other issues.
Additionally, there are other things that you can do to stop enabling your loved one’s addiction; a few include:4,5
- Participating in family or individual therapy.
- Encouraging your loved one to get inpatient treatment.
- Staging an intervention.
- Establishing healthy boundaries and upholding them.
Enabling behaviors may appear to help your loved one at the moment, but they do not help in the long run. You may be hindering their recovery by continuing to contribute to their substance misuse, despite the harm it has on their lives as well as those closest to them. If you would like help finding a recovery program for you or your loved one, American Addiction Centers is here to help.
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- American Psychological Association. (2020). APA dictionary of psychology: enabling.
- Thomas, E. J., Yoshioka, M., & Ager, R. D. (1996). Spouse enabling of alcohol abuse: Conception, assessment, and modification. Journal of Substance Abuse, 8(1), 61-80.
- University of Pennsylvania Health System. (n.d.). Enabling behaviors.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2020). Substance use disorder treatment and family therapy. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 39. SAMHSA Publication No. PEP20-02-02-012. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
- Lander, L., Howsare, J., & Byrne, M. (2013, July 27). The impact of substance use disorders on families and children: From theory to practice. Social Work in Public Health, 28, 194-205.
- Al-Anon Family Groups. (n.d.). How can I help my problem drinker quit drinking?
- Co-Dependents Anonymous. (2019, May). What is CoDA?