Blog | Drug Addiction

How to Stop Enabling Your Addicted Family Member

Mother comforting addicted daughterFamilies that have a member who struggles with addiction to alcohol or other drugs are tasked daily with a Herculean feat – walking the fine line between showing compassion and doing what is best for them; that is, showing tough love by not aiding or enabling them in their addiction. This is not an easy task. It defies your natural impulses.

From the perspective of substance abusers, deceit and manipulation are the primary tools used against their family members. They typically become quite adept at manipulating their loved ones into giving them what they want. Many people don’t have the intestinal fortitude to resist giving in to what their loved ones desperately demand. However, all this affords the abuser is a temporary easing of their pain, and then the cycle of deceit and manipulation begins all over again.[1]

While the Addict Needs to Change, the Rest of the Family May Need to Change Too

When addicts’ loved ones are asked what needs to happen for real change to occur, the answer invariably comes back that the addict needs to change.

This is usually followed by a long list of wrongs committed regularly by the person with the substance use disorder –including lies and deception, broken promises, theft, violence, shrugging off responsibilities, and more.

Yes, it’s true that addicts need a change of course in their lives to come out from under the vicious cycle of addiction through appropriate therapeutic measures. However, the fact is that family members of addicts may need to “get their head straight” just as much as their addicted loved ones in order to triumph over addiction in their family and bring wholeness and happiness to their lives.[1]

What Does “Enabling” Mean?

Father-comforting-daughterEnablers take action to personally bear the effects of others’misconduct. Enabling is closely related to codependency, which refers to being compelled to solve other people’s problems. While enablers and codependents may have the best of intentions, what they do only promotes continuation of an addiction.

Enabling “removes the natural consequences” to addicts for their behavior. Professionals warn against enabling because evidence shows that addicts who experience the damaging consequences of their addiction on their life have the most powerful incentive to change their lifestyle. It often takes “hitting rock bottom” for addicts to come to the realization that change is indeed necessary.

While enablers see their good intentions as the “easy way out” initially,desperation eventually sets in as the weight of dealing with the demands of addiction wears them out over time. The family dynamics typically become skewed, with the sober loved one(s) increasingly over-functioning and the addict(s)increasingly under-functioning. This builds resentment on both sides, as addicts expect the over-functioning member(s) will continue to compensate for the addicts’ ongoing irresponsibility.

To correct this dysfunction, family members must learn how to view their actions from a more productive perspective, using new coping mechanisms and ways of communicating with their struggling loved one.[2]

What Are Examples of Enabling Behavior?

Enabling behavior can take many forms, including: giving them money upon request or demand; repairing property that they broke; lying to their employer to cover up absenteeism; fulfilling their commitments to others; screening phone calls and making excuses for them; and bailing them out of jail.

Learning to be assertive and set boundaries are often the first steps in stopping enabling behavior.[2]

It’s Human Nature to Default to Being an Enabler When There’s Addiction in the Family

Our motivation to be an enabler may come from a variety of concerns or faulty rationale, including:

  1. Not wanting to hurt people’s feelings.
  2. Being afraid of potential anger, retaliation or acting out.
  3. Not wanting to be perceived in a negative way.
  4. Hoping that “giving in” one more time will produce a different result than it has before.
  5. It’s too difficult to try a new way of handling the situation.
  6. It’s easier just trying to “keep peace” within the family at all costs.
  7. To be honest, it’s fulfilling to oversee or control another person’s life.

Truth be told, everyone has been an enabler and codependent at one time or another; it’s the way people are naturally wired to react to certain situations. However, family members don’t serve their loved ones well by living in fear of their threats, trying to be best buds, believing this time will be different, or being too lazy to do anything about their actions.[1]

Your Choice Today May Impact the Rest of Your Family’s Future

Father and son talkingWhen enabling occurs, addicts have no reason to do anything differently and their loved ones lose their own sense of self-respect. So, the dysfunctional and irresponsible behaviors continue. An essential factor in attacking an addiction is to stop the enabling and take appropriate action. This may initially mean forming an intervention meeting to confront the struggling loved one with evidence of what addiction has done to the family and what steps need to be taken in order to obtain professional help – perhaps for the entire family. Recovery from addiction is a family issue as well as an individual issue. It calls for appropriate placement of accountability, responsibility, and resolute determination.[3]

Allowing your loved one to deal with the consequences of addiction and accept needed help at a quality, evidence-based drug rehab center that provides a broad menu of essential integrated services is the best way to get your loved one started on the road to recovery. Michael’s House is one such facility. When you call us on our 24/7 toll-free line, you will be provided with the vital information you need about substance use disorders, enabling and codependent behavior, and the options in front of you…because we care. Trust a name that stands tall in the field of drug rehab services.


[1] “Are We Addicted to Being an Enabler?”, Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/heartache-hope/201207/are-we-addicted-being-enabler , (July 1, 2012).

[2] Lancer, Darlene, J.D., M.F.T., “Are You an Enabler?”, PsychCentral, https://psychcentral.com/lib/are-you-an-enabler/ , (July 17, 2016).

[3] “When You Enable an Addict You’re Not Helping, You’re Hurting”, HuffPost, http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/candace-plattor/enabling-an-addict_b_5589340.html , (July 16, 2014).