Enabling Explained: Part 1


Family members of people seeking help for drug or alcohol addiction may be surprised to learn that their actions could be facilitating their loved one’s drug use or drinking – or that they may help create conditions that could lead to a relapse for their loved one. If you’re actively supporting a loved one’s recovery, you may have heard the term “enabling” in therapy sessions or even from the addict themselves.

What is enabling? How do we enable the drug use of our loved ones, and what can we do to change this? Today, we’re taking a closer look at enabling behavior in this first part of a two-part deep dive series.

What Is Enabling?

The word “enable” is actually a positive one – it refers to the act of helping someone accomplish something they could not do otherwise. Unfortunately, when it comes to drug and alcohol use, enabling behavior is how friends or family members facilitate the addict’s ability to drink or use drugs.

Enabling behavior can make it more difficult for the addict to stop. An enabler could be a spouse covering for a loved one who is too hungover to go into work, for example, or parents “lend” a son or daughter cash and turn a blind eye to the fact that the cash will be used to buy drugs. On the surface, family members may think they’re “taking care” of their loved ones. In fact, their “support” is actually promoting unhealthy behavior.

Signs of Enabling

When you’re close to someone in active addiction, it can be hard to draw the line where support and love ends, and enabling behavior begins. If you aren’t sure if you’re enabling poor choices, ask yourself these questions. If you find yourself saying “yes” more often than “no,” then you may be acting as an enabler for a loved one struggling with addiction.

  • Are you trivializing bad behavior? Do you make light of a loved one’s actions by saying, “oh, that’s just the way they are”?
  • Do you make excuses for your loved one?
  • Do you blame yourself for their behavior? Do you think if you could be a better spouse or parent, they wouldn’t have to drink or use drugs?
  • Are you offering financial support for someone in active addiction?
  • Are you helping cover up their actions or shield them when they are drunk or high?

The Truth About Enabling an Addict

Although it can be hard to say no to someone, especially if they threaten you or lay a guilt trip, the truth is that enabling behavior can hurt your family almost as much as the addict themselves. Enabling support actually encourages toxic behavior. It can have a profound effect on others in the family or household, like:

  • Enabling an addict diverts financial resources and attention that should be more evenly distributed
  • Other family members are neglected because the addicted person commands all the attention

It’s easy to mistake kindness with enabling. No one wants to see a loved one cry, say that they are hungry, or have nowhere else to go. But, the best thing you can do for someone in active addiction – and yourself – is to establish healthy boundaries, starting with saying “no.”

Do You See Enabling Behaviors in Yourself?

We can help. Contact Hickory Treatment Centers to learn about treatment for people addicted to drugs and alcohol, as well as family therapy. And, read on to Part Two of Enabling Explained to learn more about establishing healthy boundaries.

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If you have tried to stop using alcohol or drugs on your own, you may feel that sobriety and clean living seem far away. However, with the help of caring staff members and a safe, structured environment, you can receive the guidance you need to fight cravings and regain control of your life.

Contact us today to schedule an appointment with our admission staff or learn more about our healing programs.