An Enabling Relationship in Addiction

Alcohol and drug addiction affects not only the addict, but those around them as well. Often, close family members and friends are the most impacted by the disease. Some may be enabling the person with the addiction without even knowing it. An enabling relationship in addiction is defined as one in which a family member or friend makes it easier for the addict to continue their destructive behavior and perpetuate their disease.

Signs That You May Be An Enabler

Sometimes it can be difficult to realize that you are actually helping an addict to continue their damaging drug or alcohol abuse. You may think you’re helping, but in reality, you are only making things worse. The longer someone suffering with addiction goes without getting help, the less likely they are to quit and try to get sober. So how can you tell the difference between helping and enabling? When you enable someone, you are essentially doing things for them that they should be able to do on their own. It means that they can continue to use drugs or alcohol without any significant consequences. Your actions lead them to believe that they can get away with it because there are no repercussions, making it even more difficult for them to realize or admit there is even a problem or that they must seek help.

Enabling Behaviors

The following are some examples of enabling behaviors that could be keeping your loved one from seeking rehabilitation for their disease.

  1. You tell lies in order to keep the addict out of trouble. This could mean lying to other family members or friends about the addiction or underplaying how bad the problem actually is.
  2. You do things for them that allow them to avoid their day to day responsibilities. Paying their bills, buying their groceries and cooking or cleaning for them, are just some examples of this behavior.
  3. You help the person with his or her financial problems. Because addiction is a chronic disease, it usually leads to a depletion of finances. Enablers may find themselves lending the addict money on a regular basis, paying their rent or even bailing them out of jail when they get into legal trouble.
  4. You make excuses for their behavior when they act out in public or in front of other friends and family.
  5. You fail to follow through with consequences. No matter how much you threaten, if you do not enforce consequences when they cause problems, he or she will never change their behavior.

In some cases, enablers drink or do drugs with the addict. This creates an even more deep-seeded problem as they are encouraging the individual to continue destroying their physical, mental and emotional health. This type of behavior requires immediate attention, and may require that both individuals enter a drug treatment program.

How to Stop

Just like a person struggling with substance dependency must come to terms with their reality and admit they have a problem, so too must enablers recognize the damage they are causing and the role they play in perpetuating the addiction. Setting strict boundaries and consequences is the only way an addict will realize they cannot depend on you for help. Although it may be difficult to say “NO” at first, the key is to stay committed and firm in your decision.

It is likely that the addict will react negatively when you say “no” to their requests, but do not let the fear of damaging the relationship stop you. They may be angry and hurt over your decision, but that is nothing compared to the pain they will experience if they continue their drug use.

The most important thing is to remain assertive. Do not allow your loved one to manipulate you. Addiction is a terrible disease that destroys lives. Don’t let it destroy the life of someone you care about.

If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the WhiteSands Treatment at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.

About the Author

is a proud alumni member of WhiteSands Treatment. After living a life of chaos, destruction and constant let downs, Mark was able to make a complete turnaround that sparked a new way of life. He is serious about his recovery along with helping others. At WhiteSands Treatment, we offer support to you in your homes or when you are out living in your daily lives.