Whilst it can be painful to watch a loved one struggling with addiction, meaning that you want to do everything in your power to help them and make their life more comfortable, some actions actually cause more harm than good. In these cases, in trying to help your loved one, you may unfortunately be enabling them to remain in the cycle of addiction.

What Is Enabling?

There is a difference between supporting and enabling. In some cases this might be very obvious, but in others it might be more subtle, meaning that you could accidentally end up enabling your addicted loved one or friend when all you wanted to do was help. Here are some examples of enabling behaviour which you should avoid:

Cleaning up mess (or vomit) made by your loved one when they were using

Calling in sick on their behalf, or making excuses for them to avoid their responsibilities

Believing their lies and excuses without question

Paying their bills

Bailing them out of prison

Allowing them to avoid talking about their addiction

Allowing them to abuse you when they are drinking or taking drugs

Why Is Enabling Bad?

Whilst it is horrible to watch a loved one spiral ever deeper into addiction, by enabling them you are actually making it more likely that the addiction will continue. The thing that prompts addicts to get help is when they start to feel the consequences of their actions, and with you cushioning the blow of their bad behaviour, they have no motivation to start taking responsibility for themselves.

An addict, even if they truly love you, is inherently selfish, as addiction is a selfish disease as it must be satisfied before all else. Seeing the damage that they are doing to you or their family is not going to be enough of a push to get the addict to go into treatment. You need to allow their life to get difficult by refusing to support their addiction.


Signs That You Are Enabling An Addict


Ignoring Or Minimising Bad Behaviour

Bad or dangerous behaviour is a classic symptom of an addiction. Often an addict will need to fund their addiction, meaning that stealing and other illegal behaviours are common. Purchasing drugs illegally puts the addict at risk, and those who are addicted to alcohol might drink and drive or operate machinery at work when drunk.

If you continue to allow the addict to behave in these ways by telling them that it’s ok because ‘they were drunk’, or because ‘they are really sorry’, or because ‘it will never happen again’ then you are telling that person that their behaviour is ok, and is accepted by the people that they love and respect.


Putting Their Needs Before Your Own

A person that is addicted lives their life in a constant flurry of drama and emergency. For people that feel protective of the addict, they will want to make sure that such situations are eased for them.

This could mean that you pay their rent when they beg you to, the day before they are due to be evicted. Or you might miss out on a night’s sleep picking them up when they are high and stranded somewhere.


Not Being Able To Say No

Some enablers do this because they love and feel sorry for the addict, whilst others may do it because they are afraid of them. One of the things which accompanies an addiction is a tendency to become hostile and aggressive when told no, fuelled by a ‘need’ for the substance.


Financially Supporting The Addict

This is very common with parents and partners of addicts, as either their financial situation affects yours, or you feel as though it is your job to support them. Everything from buying them beer when they can’t afford it, to paying their rent counts as financially supporting addiction.


Making Excuses For Their Behaviour

A lot of people will make excuses for the behaviour of the addict, believing that their behaviour is such because they are addicted. It should be obvious how damaging this belief is. You are excusing the behaviour caused by the addiction, by blaming the addiction, which in itself is a behaviour that the addict is perpetuating.

Some enablers will lie or make excuses for the addict, to stop them from getting into trouble. You might call in sick for your partner when they are hungover or lie and tell friends that they’ve had a bad reaction to prescription medication when they act bizarrely in public. Even supporting and backing up the lies that the addict tells is a sign that you are enabling them.


How To Stop Enabling


Get Help

The addict themselves isn’t expected to recover from their addiction on their own, so neither should you be. Luckily, there are plenty of options for the friends and family of addicts, including Al-Anon or Nar-Anon meetings, or taking part in the family counselling sessions offered as part of the treatment process at Ocean Recovery Centre.

Ocean Recovery Centre can also help you to arrange taking your loved one into rehab, and support you through the detox and rehabilitation process, as well as during the months after your loved one leaves rehab.  Call 01253 847 553, or text HELP to 83222 to find out more.


Stop Helping Financially

Do not allow your loved one to take a single penny of your money going forward. Even if this will have dire consequences for them, this is a good thing as it should rush them into treatment much faster.

It is not your responsibility to support them financially and enable their addiction to continue unabated, and it is certainly not down to you to help them to obtain alcohol or drugs.


Stop Accepting Abusive Behaviour

Be prepared to walk away from the addict if they are emotionally or physically abusive. Making excuses that it is their addiction talking doesn’t stop the fact that it is still happening, and they are doing it to you.

If they are willing to let you go so that they can stay addicted them so be it, either way your life will improve without you being constantly abused by them.

Wrapping Up

It can be so difficult to disengage in the ways we have discussed in this article. The people close to an addict often feel the need to do something, anything, as at least they are taking some action. But sometimes doing nothing and not helping an addict is the most helpful course of action for them long term. It’s unintuitive as much as it is painful but saying no to a loved one who is an addict can be the shock to the system they need to start their journey of recovery.


John Gillen - Author - Last updated: March 24, 2023

John is one UK’s leading professionals in the addiction recovery industry. Pioneering new treatment techniques such as NAD+ and ongoing research into new therapy techniques such as systematic laser therapy, John is committed to providing the very best treatment for people throughout the UK and Europe. During his extremely busy schedule, John likes to regularly update our blog section with the latest news and trends in the industry to keep visitors to our site as well informed as possible on everything related to addiction treatment.