am i enabling an addict

Enabling an Addict: When Trying to Help Hurts

Dr. Norris Von Curl, II, MD

Dr. Norris Von Curl, II, MD

It’s easy to say that we love our friends and family and would do anything to protect them. But when a beloved family member or friend has a destructive relationship with an addictive substance, we can easily fall into certain behaviors that further exacerbate the addiction. We can end up enabling a person’s dependencies instead of helping them get better.

Enabling is a word that we hear a lot on T.V. and in general conversations. But what does it really mean?

What Is Enabling?

For our purposes, enabling refers to the actions of a person who ignores a loved one’s problems, makes excuses for their irresponsible behaviors, and further feeds their addictions, sometimes unknowingly. Lending money, ignoring theft, and downplaying the seriousness of the situation are all examples of enabling.

In response, a person addicted to drugs or alcohol doesn’t have to face any consequences or repercussions for their behaviors and can continue, and even get worse, in their addiction. They can use the money you give them to help pay a bill to buy more drugs. They can continue to steal from you to feed their habit. They can convince themselves that they don’t need help because everyone justifies their actions.

The person who enables irresponsible behaviors in their loved one can become co-dependent on the structure of the relationship. The way you see yourself begins to depend wholly on how much you love your person and how much you can do for them. Our self-esteem and personal responsibilities can suffer greatly from such enabling when all we want to do is help them.

How do we know if what we are doing is enabling our loved one, or helping them?

The Difference Between Helping And Enabling?

Human beings have an instinct to protect and even love those who we consider family. This instinct is responsible for many wonderful things, such as the idea of family, but can have its drawbacks, such as our tendency to enable those we love. The problem with enabling is that we feel that we are helping. We don’t see that our actions are causing damage.

Truly helping means looking at the bigger picture and suggesting they find help. Helping can take on the form of backing off when you feel that you need to get closer. When you stop enabling, the person with an addiction is forced to face their own responsibilities and consequences, which helps them move beyond the victim mentality that addiction causes.

Enabling causes you to feel as if you are controlling or maintaining a situation that can’t be controlled by the person you see as a victim. Helping refers to the actions you take to help your loved one become healthy and self-sufficient. The entire goal should be to get them help and enabling decreases your loved one’s desire to get that help.

So, how do we recognize which of our behaviors are enabling our loved one as opposed to helping them?

Examples Of Enabling

There are several characteristics of enablers that are universally acknowledged as damaging:

  • not addressing problematic behaviors, such as theft or lying
  • giving them money for something they say they need but you know that they may use the money to feed their addictions
  • lying, denying, and making excuses to others and to yourself to explain their problematic behaviors
  • doing things for the person with addiction that they can do for themselves and relieving them of their necessary responsibilities
  • pretending problematic behaviors don’t affect you which proves that you are ignoring your emotions
  • ignoring or sacrificing your own needs for their wants
  • not setting boundaries which usually stems from an inability to say ‘no’

Anxiety and fear empower our enabling tendencies and it’s in your best interest to step back as soon as possible. But, what can you do to stop enabling your loved one’s destructive behaviors?

How To Stop Enabling

Address the problem with your loved one and don’t downplay the seriousness of the situation. Talk to them about their specific behaviors and come up with solutions or restitution. Remember that they are suffering from a disease, but this disease can get better with help.

You must set up your personal boundaries and decided what you will and will not do. Consistently uphold your boundaries and the consequences you set for their behaviors.

We highly suggest therapy and meetings created specifically to combat enabling behaviors. It’s time for you to take care of yourself and place yourself and your needs above that of another person. You need to be healthy to truly help others.

Our entire mission is to be there for those who need us, and that includes the family of the person suffering from addiction. Allow us to help get you started on your own journey.

Call Us For Help Immediately!

It is essential to encourage your loved one to attend rehabilitation and therapy. There are answers to everyone’s questions and appropriate responses to your needs in a supportive and protective environment just a phone call away.

First Steps Recovery in Fresno, California, is dedicated to giving you excellent individualized addiction treatment from the first step onward. Our evidence-based program is supported by our client’s positive outcomes and consistent results. We are with you the entire way.

Contact us at 844-489-0836 for a free consultation and we will get you the attention you deserve.

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