When your loved one is battling an addiction, it is a natural instinct to try and offer as much help as possible. However, sometimes this help becomes an enabling behavior without you even knowing it.  Enabling behavior can be a complex and subtle issue, often disguised as support, love, or care. In the context of addiction, enabling behavior can have damaging effects on not only the individual struggling with substance use but also the entire family. Enabling behaviors can delay recovery and prolong the suffering of everyone involved. In this article, I’ll delve into what it means to be an enabler, the signs to watch for, how enabling can harm both the individual and the family, and steps to take to break the cycle.

What is an Enabler?

An enabler is someone who, often with the best intentions, takes actions that allow a person with an addiction to continue their harmful behaviors. Enabling can take many forms, ranging from providing financial support to covering up for someone’s misdeeds or making excuses for their addiction-related behavior. Essentially, enabling involves removing the natural consequences that would otherwise prompt an individual to address their addiction.

Common Enabling Behaviors

Family members and loved ones must first understand what is considered common enabling behaviors so they can avoid providing them. Enabling can manifest in various ways, and it’s not always easy to identify. Here are the 5 most common enabling behaviors that may sound familiar:

1. Making Excuses: Defending the individual’s actions, explaining away their behaviors, or blaming external factors for their substance use.

2. Providing Financial Support: Giving money to cover their addiction-related expenses, whether for drugs, alcohol, or even legal fees stemming from their behavior.

3. Cleaning Up the Messes: Taking on the responsibilities of the addicted person, such as paying their bills, cleaning their home, or taking care of their children so that they can continue their destructive habits.

4. Protecting Them from Consequences: Lying to employers, friends, or family to keep them out of trouble, or bailing them out of jail when they face legal issues.

5. Avoiding Confrontation: Refraining from addressing the addiction to “keep the peace” or because of fear of conflict.

How Enabling Hurts the Family

Supporting loved ones through addiction intervention and recovery is a family affair.  It requires that all family members and loved ones understand how to support their loved one through the process best and be aligned with what is and what isn’t acceptable support. Enabling behaviors, while often done out of love, can have serious consequences for the entire family.  Below are the results of how enabling can hurt your entire family, including the loved one that is suffering from an addiction: 

– Delaying Recovery: By shielding the addicted individual from consequences, enablers remove the urgency to seek help or change. This can delay recovery and prolong the cycle of addiction.

– Straining Relationships: Enabling behaviors often create tension and resentment among family members who may feel frustrated or taken advantage of. This can lead to a breakdown in family dynamics and trust.

– Perpetuating Codependency: Enabling can foster unhealthy codependency, where the enabler’s identity becomes tied to their role in “taking care” of the addicted person. This codependency can be emotionally exhausting and detrimental to the enabler’s well-being.

– Normalizing Unhealthy Behaviors: When enabling behaviors are present, it can normalize the addicted individual’s actions, making it seem acceptable to continue using substances.

How to Stop Enabling

Recognizing enabling behavior is the first step in breaking the cycle. Here are my top 5 strategies to help stop enabling behaviors and encourage healthier behaviors:

1. Set Boundaries: Clearly define what behaviors are acceptable and what are not. Setting boundaries helps establish accountability and encourages the individual to take responsibility for their actions.

2. Allow Natural Consequences: Letting the addicted person face the consequences of their actions is crucial for their growth and recovery. This might mean allowing them to face legal repercussions or experience financial difficulties as a result of their addiction.

3. Seek Professional Help: Engaging with a professional interventionist, like those who specialize in drug and alcohol addiction interventions, can provide guidance and support in addressing enabling behaviors and staging effective interventions.

4. Focus on Self-Care: It’s essential for enablers to take care of themselves and seek support. Joining support groups, such as Al-Anon or Nar-Anon, can be beneficial for learning healthier coping mechanisms and breaking the cycle of enabling.

5. Encourage Treatment and Recovery: Rather than enabling, encourage the addicted individual to seek professional help and support them through their recovery journey.

The Importance of Recognizing Enabling Behaviors

Many enablers do not realize they are engaging in enabling behaviors. They may believe they are helping by providing support or keeping the peace, but in reality, they are allowing the addiction to continue unchecked. Recognizing enabling behaviors and taking steps to change them is critical in breaking the cycle of addiction and promoting recovery for the entire family.

If you suspect that you or someone you know is engaging in enabling behaviors, take a step back and evaluate the situation. Ask yourself whether your actions are truly helping the addicted person or if they are allowing them to continue their destructive path. If you’re unsure, seek expert advice from a professional like myself here at Living Recovery Interventions who specializes in drug and alcohol addiction interventions in Billings

I understand the complexities of addiction and the impact it has on families. My goal is to help families navigate the challenging journey of addiction recovery by providing compassionate and effective intervention services. By addressing enabling behaviors and promoting accountability, I can help families move toward healing and recovery.



How Enabling Behaviors Hurt the Entire Family