Enabling and Addiction

Addiction is a difficult and most times agonizing experience for many people, this includes the individual’s family members or loved ones. When someone we love is suffering from an addiction, we typically want what’s best for them which is why we are quick to jump in and try to help. We may offer support or motivation…but as we see our loved one continue to suffer, our attempts at helping can become increasingly desperate.

What is Enabling?

Enabling occurs when we try to offer help or support to someone who has an addiction that they could otherwise do for themselves if they were sober. While our intentions may be correct because we are trying to help them, in many cases enabling them may unintentionally end up making things worse. Some examples of enabling include:

  • Making excuses, for example: calling in sick for someone because they are too hungover or inebriated to make it in. This creates a safety net protecting them from suffering the consequences of their own actions. Those consequences can be helpful at times to help them realize that they need to stop breaking rules.
  • Doing their personal responsibilities for them, for example: completing their parenting duties, driving to the liquor store to buy them alcohol, or cleaning up their messes.
  • Loaning them money, for example: paying their bills or giving them more money when they haven’t returned the money they already owe you. The consequences are that they may be expecting you to handle their financial responsibilities while using this money to purchase drugs or alcohol.
  • Saving them from legal trouble, for example: paying their bail to get them out of jail faster, ignoring illegal behaviour such as driving under the influence, or tolerating abuse from them instead of calling the cops. There is a reason we have a legal system, and that reason is to ensure the safety of ourselves and the public. Protecting someone from getting in trouble cushions them feeling the pain of their mistakes and could put them or others at risk.

There are many other examples of enabling but the bottom line is that there is a difference between genuinely helping someone who needs it, versus enabling someone whose responsibility it is to complete their own obligations.

How to Help

Some things that can be done to genuinely help someone with an addiction include:

  • Setting boundaries, for example: clearly stating rules or expectations to limit or stop someone’s unhealthy behaviour such as not allowing them into your home if they are under the influence.
  • Allow them to face the consequences of their own actions. This is a hard one for many people because it could mean that your loved one may lose their job, their relationships, or their positive public image. However, enabling does not always shield someone from problems associated with their addiction, it may cause the addiction to grow stronger which usually comes with even bigger consequences.
  • Safety is a priority. Make sure that the decisions you make benefit yourself and your family to minimize any potential harm. This could mean asking your loved one to stay at a relative or friend’s house. It could also mean enrolling them in an inpatient rehabilitation facility if they are agreeable, or involving the authorities if needed.

Taking care of yourself and your own needs are important. We tend to burn ourselves out helping others as our energy, time, and resources deplete. It is hard to operate or even offer the best possible help to a loved one when your own battery is running low. Al-Anon is a peer support group with meetings all over the world for family members, therapy can be a great resource to help you talk it out, or even just prioritizing your own needs can be helpful.


T, Buddy. (2023). How to tell if you’re enabling an alcoholic and how to stop. Very Well Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/how-to-stop-enabling-an-alcoholic-63083

T, Buddy. (2023). What is enabling and how to recognize it. Very Well Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/enabling-alcoholic-is-not-helping-63297


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