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In case your actions, words, and conversations are directly or indirectly helping someone continue or maintain their drug and alcohol abuse and addiction, then you could be termed an enabler.

That said, you should keep in mind that it is never easy to have a loved one, friend, colleague, or member of your family struggling with addiction. In these situations, it might be difficult for you to figure out the best way to support them so that they can recover from their substance use.

At this point, you might start worrying about them and start thinking about how you can help them. However, you may also wonder whether what you do is helping them beat their addiction or if you have been supporting their addiction. This is why you need to understand what an enabler is - if only to ensure that you are not one.

Understanding Enabling

Where addiction and substance use disorders are concerned, enabling means that you are accommodating an addict and protecting them so that they do not face the consequences of their substance abuse.

Therefore, you might be an enabler if your actions and works are helping anyone continue or maintain their addiction. In most cases, enablers are loved ones who unintentionally or intentionally assist addicts continue their alcohol or drug abuse. They do so by engaging in conversations, actions and behaviors that they think could be helping the addict. In reality, however, they only serve to hurt the addict.

Sadly, many alcoholics and addicts would confront their issues and battle their dependence and tolerance if they were not being enabled. This is why you need to ensure you are not an enabler.

For instance, you might provide accommodation and food to loved ones struggling with an alcohol or a drug addiction problem. When you do this, you might think that it is a noble gesture.

However, if you allowed the addict to become homeless as natural result of their choice to continue drinking alcohol and abusing drugs, they might feel so uncomfortable that they will eventually start looking for the professional help they desperately need.

This means that enablers are people who knowingly or unknowingly help addicts through their abuse with the help of rescuing actions. By so doing, they "save" the addict from the consequences of their behavior.

Another enabling example is when a drug and alcohol dependent loved one lives at home with his parents. The parents allow him to live rent free and possibly even give him money on regular occasions. This enabling behavior only allows the addict to comfortably purchase more drugs and continue their addiction.

Thus, classic enablers allow alcoholics and addicts to continue in their drugging and drinking ways even providing them with the security of knowing that they will always be rescued from their mistakes.

In other cases, an enabler might lecture and preach only to be discounted by the addict or alcoholic. They may also try to analyze the causes of their loved one's drug abuse and addiction instead of getting professionals at accredited rehabilitation and treatment centers to do the analyzing.

How Enabling Works

As we mentioned earlier, if you are an enabler it means that you will reduce the natural consequences of substance abuse and addiction. Since money is usually the lifeblood of all types of addiction, providing any form of financial support to an addiction will only prolong their suffering.

For instance, while paying for their food and automobile repairs might seem like loving gestures, this act might only make life easier for the loved one. As such, they will be able to use their own money to continue abusing alcohol and drugs.

As an enabler, therefore, you might find yourself locking up your valuables and wallets. You may also stop inviting people over because you fear your addicted loved one will embarrass you. By so doing, however, you will be making allowances for their addiction.

Some enablers also indirectly provide alcohol and drugs to an addict - such as by giving them money. Others will protect them from legal consequences when they commit crimes - such as by lying on their behalf or bailing them out of jail.

To counteract these actions, drug and alcohol rehabilitation and treatment facilities will reverse the dysfunctional role you played as an enabler. This is because an enabler could easily undo every professional guidance and help that the addict receive while they were undergoing treatment.

However, enablers can start recognizing the power and responsibility they wield. When they do so, they may band together to put a stop to their loved one's substance abuse and addiction.

This way, they could effectively stop the dysfunctional behavior that prolonged the addiction. Only at this stage will the addict find life so hard - since they will no longer be able to maintain their drug abuse problem. Additionally, this may allow the enablers to adopt healthier habits - such as focusing on their lives.

Are You An Enabler?

But how do you tell if you are an enabler? Since it is difficult to change behavior you might not be consciously aware of, you should think about the questions below to determine if you have been enabling a loved one with a drug and alcohol abuse problem:

  • Do you experience strain and stress as a result of your interactions with them?
  • Do you give them new chances while knowing you wouldn't stick to your bottom line whatever happens?
  • Do you make empty threats while trying to compel them to stop their drug or alcohol abuse?
  • Do you threaten to leave them or kick them out if they don't change but never live up to the threats?
  • Have they failed to make progress or get better because of your influence?
  • Have you accepted part of or any blame for their substance related behavior?
  • Have you avoided confronting them about their drug/alcohol abuse because you feared their response?
  • Have you been taking care of them and their responsibilities in a way they should be expected to do for themselves?
  • Have you called in to work or school on their behalf after they failed to wake up after a night of partying?
  • Have you ever finished something they did not complete as a result of being high or drunk?
  • Have you ever loaned them money while you knew they would use it to buy drugs/alcohol?
  • Have you excused their dysfunctional behavior even though you know it was directly related to their substance abuse?
  • Have you gotten them out of a jam - such as paying an attorney or bailing them from jail - for drug-related charges?
  • Have you helped them obtain or purchase their preferred substance of abuse in one way or the other?
  • Have you made excuses or told lies to cover up for them?
  • Have you paid for their insurance, car note, rent, cell phone bill, or transportation because they wasted all their money on alcohol/drugs?
  • Have you started drinking or using drugs with them hoping to strengthen your relationship?
  • Have you tried to cover up their substance abuse or lied for them in one way or the other?
  • Have you turned a blind eye or provided them with avenues so that they can use?

In case your answer to some, or all of the questions listed above are yes, you can be sure that you are an enabler to some greater or lesser degree. At this point, you should review your enabling behavior and understand that you are only serving to prolong the loved one's problem with alcohol or drug addiction.

Why Enabling Hurts

As an enabler, you serve to take away any natural consequences your loved one may suffer as a result of their addictive and using behavior. Their motivation for change will also go right along with your enabling.

Therefore, when you sweep up any mess they make as a result of their drug and alcohol abuse may ensure that they never get to see or understand that they need to change.

Anyone struggling with an addiction can easily convince themselves that they don't have a problem. Therefore, when you remove the consequences of their behavior, it will provide them with evidence fueling their denial.

Consequently, you need to make them interested enough to start considering recovery and treatment. This will only be possible when the benefits of putting their addiction to a stop far outweighs any disadvantages they experience.

Therefore, if you are seriously considering helping an addict, it is imperative that you stop enabling them. This way, the balance will be tipped and they will find the natural motivation to get treated for their condition. They will also feel the consequences of their substance abuse so deeply that they will have no other choice than to seek treatment before they hit rock bottom.

You should also know that enabling does not do you any good either. As an enabler of an addiction, you will start experiencing financial, emotional, and physical drain. You will expend energy worrying and bailing them when they get in bad situations.

Eventually, your whole life might start revolving around the addict to a point that you feel like they are your addiction. You may also tie your sense of identity and self-worth to taking care of them and their dependence on you. This pattern is referred to as co-dependence.

Breaking the pattern might be difficult - because both the addict and you would have become used to these terms of engagement. You might also fear that failure to enable them will lead to the loss of their life, or cause retaliation or conflict.

However, you have to remember that addicts are usually desperate due to their need to continue using. As such, they might become skillful at manipulating situations to their advantage. They might also take advantage of your reluctance to break the established enabling routine.

Although you might find it hard at first, it is essential that you set limits and stick to them. Remember, at the end of the day, your goal is to motivate them enough to overcome their addiction by looking for the professional help they require.

How To Stop Enabling

You should ask yourself whether what you are doing is making it easier for the loved one to continue abusing intoxicating and mind altering substances. In case the answer is yes, rethink it.

Let the addict know that you love them care for them, and want to help them, but that you will no longer help them in any way that directly or indirectly helps them to continue their addiction, Rather, you will only help them in any way that helps them to end their addiction, such as helping them to get into treatment.

Other things you can do to stop being an enabler include:

a) Encourage Positive Change

Tell them that change is on the way even before laying down the groundwork. This will notify them that they need to prepare for the new changes. Inform them that there are certain things you will no longer be able to do. Then, balance it out with what you can do.

Express the fact that you are not necessarily giving up on them - only that you are not going to contribute to their addiction. Also, inform them that you will be available in case they seek treatment.

b) Avoid Temptations

Never tempt loved ones struggling with addiction such as by drinking around them or taking them to places where they can easily access alcohol or drugs.

c) Encourage Sobriety

You should refuse to spend time with them every time they are intoxicating. Instead, only participate in activities with them when they are sober.

d) Take Care of Yourself

Even as you battle your enabling behavior, ensure you take good care of yourself. Seek out personal counseling or use your own support system. You can also join support groups designed for the friends and families of people struggling with substance abuse and addiction, like Al-Anon.

e) Live Your Life

Instead of wasting your energy and time focusing on cleaning their messes, start reinvesting in yourself. You should also make decisions that are to the best interest of your OWN physical and mental health and wellness.


Over and above everything else, being an enabler only means that you will hurt yourself and your loved one. Instead, you should fight it out and try getting the addict in your circle to seek treatment and rehabilitation for their substance use disorder, addiction, and any co-occurring mental health issues they might be battling. Remember, enabling only delays their recovery and the sooner you break the habit, the easier it will be for them to fight their addiction.

Find Resources

If you are addicted to alcohol or drugs, it is imperative that you look for professional help as soon as you possibly can. However, you might not know where to start or the options that are open to you. Similarly, you may have little to no idea about the differences between the different treatment facilities and the programs they have in store for their patients.

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