How to Know if You’re Enabling an Addiction

by Renee W.

As a recovering alcoholic who has been enabled by well-meaning family and friends, I have a strong stance on this issue.

When I was drowning in my addiction, I manipulated my family and friends as all addicts do.  

Some fell into the destructive cycle of enabling me in my addition. When I look back, I see certain well-meaning loved ones believe the lies I told them, fail to call me out on my behaviours, always tell me everything was okay, and, overall, helped keep my addition alive and strong. 

In no way am I blaming my alcohol addiction on my enablers, but I now clearly see who they were.

Then I remember the non-enablers. These were the ones who looked right past my manipulation and called me out on my behaviours and called my addiction what it was: a brain illness that was not my fault, but I was still responsible for my actions. 

These people held me accountable for my words and behaviours. They often gave me ultimatums and would not put up with my manipulation attempts.

At the time, I was furious with the non-enablers. How dare you call me out on my behaviour? This is not my fault! 

Today, I am proudly in recovery from all alcohol and drugs, and every detail of my life is way sharper, way clearer.

I also have a few individuals in my life who suffer from addiction and are on a destructive path. Because I know what it’s like to be enabled and to not be enabled, I am very careful regarding my interactions with these people. I do not want to enable an addiction in any way, but I do want to help if I can. 

Let me back up a bit.

First, let’s understand what enabling really means. Then let’s look at some consequences of enabling. 

What is Enabling? 

addiction and enabling

Enabling, by definition, means “to accommodate the addicted individual in order to protect them from facing the full consequences of their drug use.” 

Simply put, when dealing with an addict of any kind, your words and actions can either enable them or not.

You may not mean to enable, and this is where this issue gets sticky. You may truly want the best for this person, but you just don’t know what to do or how to help. 

How do I know if I am Enabling an Addiction? 

Here are some questions you can ask yourself: 

  1. Have you helped your loved one either buy or acquire their substances? 
  2. Have you tried to ignore their addiction and their behaviours? 
  3. Have you lied for them in any way, to help cover up the severity of their addiction? 
  4. Have you taken care of their responsibilities because they were unable to due to their addiction? 
  5. Have you made empty threats to try to get them to stop their drug or alcohol use? 

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be enabling your loved one.

Let me just say this: your motives are good, you want the best for this person, you want them to overcome their addiction, but you don’t know what to do.

An enabler does not mean to enable. In the same breath, an enabler should recognize his or her tendencies to enable and change them. 

Afterall, enabling hurts. Not just the addict but everyone involved. Here are some reasons why: 

What are some Consequences of Enabling? 

Enabling prolongs an addiction, which can be dangerous. Here are some examples of why this is so. 

Most addicts are in some denial about their addiction. When I was deep into my addiction, I not only lied to others about the severity of my addiction, I lied to myself. I truly convinced myself it wasn’t that bad. 

I also found that there were some others who agreed with me, “Your alcohol use isn’t that bad. Many people drink way more than you do,” they would say.

Even though they didn’t know about the full extent of my alcohol use, these statements were just the “evidence” I needed in order to fuel my denial. 

Because enablers contribute to the time-span of an addiction, they should realize that lengthening an addiction can lead to serious, even deadly consequences.

Health complications, both physical and mental ones, can occur. Professional and personal relationships can be permanently damaged. Employment can be taken away. Risky behaviour where the addict lacks judgement can result in life-changing penalties. 

When you enable someone, you take away the natural costs of their behaviours, disrupting the cause and effect cycle. Consequences can be powerful motivators for change.

When they are taken away or minimized, the addict continues to fuel his or her addiction. 

How Can I Give Support Without Enabling? 

relationships and addiction hiking

Alcoholism and drug addictions are often referred to as a family disease. If you are living with an addicted loved one, you know this to be true.

Addictions impact every single person in the addict’s immediate family. That’s why it’s important to support your loved one without enabling him or her. 

How this is carried out can look in different ways, but it means that you must allow the addict to experience the natural consequences of his or her addiction. They must feel the pain of their addiction in order to gain motivation to seek treatment. 

Here are some healthy steps to take in order to offer support without enabling: 

Define the parameters of the relationship.

In the beginning, you must be honest with your loved one about how your relationship will proceed.

Be specific about what you will no longer do, and let them know that while you will support them, you won’t support their addiction in any way. 

Don’t be a stumbling block in any way.

I really appreciated my friends and family members who refused to be a stumbling block for me. Some of them said, “I will not drink around you. Period.” And they didn’t.

If you are trying not to enable, make sure you go out of your way not to cause your loved ones any temptations. 

Follow through, always.

Sometimes enablers say they want to help, and they take steps to do so. They make promises to themselves about following through, but in a weak moment, they may slip.

If you told your loved one that you will not loan him money anymore, then stick to that. If you told her that you will take her to support meetings on Mondays and Fridays, then stick to that. Whatever you say, follow through. 

Encourage sobriety 

A loved one who wants to support an addict will encourage his or her sobriety. This means standing up to him or her and saying, “I won’t spend time with you while you’re drinking or high.”

This means helping an addict find a treatment facility. This means celebrating sober days. For example, I still send my close friends and family members sobriety updates. They may get a text from me one morning that says, “I am X days sober!” 

When it comes down to it, enabling is a form of attempted control.

When you enable, you do not let the addict take responsibility for their actions and behaviours. What enablers need to understand is, we are powerless to control others. Period. 

Some of my loved ones stepped away from me when I was in my addiction.

While I resented them for it then, I love them for it now. They showed me that while they loved me, they would not support my addiction.

It was because of that distance that I became desperate and sought the help I needed. 

Please remember that no situation is hopeless, no matter how dire it seems. There is always, always hope for the addict and the enabler!


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