October 20, 2023

How to Stop Being an Enabler for an Addict

image representing enabler and enabling a drug addict

When you have a loved one struggling with substance or alcohol addiction, you may wonder whether you are enabling a drug addict or providing genuine help. What does it mean to be an enabler, then?

Help for you or a loved one is only one call away.

Enabling addiction involves doing tasks for an addicted person that they could and would do for themselves when sober. Conversely, helping entails assisting with things they cannot or would not do for themselves while sober. Importantly, helping does not shield the person from the consequences of their actions.

Recognizing the difference between being an addiction enabler and a genuine helper is beneficial to you and your loved one. If you discover that you have been enabling, take steps to change this behavior. You can explore practical advice and examples on how to cease enabling someone with an alcohol or substance abuse problem. This shift towards healthier support can be a significant factor in your loved one’s ongoing recovery journey. Read on to discover:

  • What is an enabler in addiction?
  • What are the signs of enabling a drug addict?
  • How to stop being an enabler.

What Is an Enabler?

What’s an enabler, then? The definition of an enabler in the life of an individual struggling with addiction is someone whose behavior inadvertently supports or perpetuates the addicted person’s destructive habits and prevents them from facing the consequences of their actions. Enablers can take various forms, including relatives, romantic partners, friends, or loved ones. While most enablers have good intentions and believe that they are helping, their actions can ultimately do more harm than good.

Enabling behaviors can be prevalent in codependent relationships, where the enabler often takes responsibility for the addicted person’s actions and emotions. Enabling in the context of addiction and recovery, though, typically has a negative connotation.

Enablers may engage in actions such as covering up the addicted person’s mistakes, providing financial support for their addiction, or making excuses for their behavior. These actions, while well-intentioned, can inadvertently hinder the addicted individual’s recovery process.

The Downsides of Enabling Behaviors in Addiction

Enabling behaviors, often stemming from love and a desire to help, can have significant downsides when dealing with addiction. While these actions may appear to provide temporary relief or support to a loved one struggling with addiction, they can ultimately hinder the recovery process and perpetuate the cycle of substance abuse. Here are some of the key downsides of enabling behaviors in addiction:

  • Perpetuating the addiction: Enabling actions may inadvertently allow the addicted individual to continue their substance abuse without facing the full consequences of their actions. This can lead to prolonged addiction and its associated negative impacts.
  • Financial drain: Enablers may find themselves financially supporting the addicted person, covering expenses related to their substance abuse, such as buying drugs or alcohol. This not only strains the enabler’s finances but also enables the addiction to persist.
  • Emotional toll: Enablers often experience emotional distress as they witness the destructive behavior of their loved one. It can lead to stress, anxiety, and even a sense of powerlessness.
  • Preventing recovery: Enabling behaviors can impair the addicted individual’s motivation to seek treatment or enter recovery programs. When the consequences of their actions are minimized or removed, there is less incentive to change.
  • Strained relationships: Enabling can strain relationships with the addicted person as well as with other family members or loved ones who may disagree with the enabling behaviors. This can lead to fractured relationships and increased tension within the family or social circle.

Offering genuine support, rather than enabling, is more effective in helping people with addictions. Seeking professional guidance and support for both the addicted person and the enabler is often necessary to break the cycle of enabling and promote a healthier path towards recovery.

An image of a woman who is an addict, receiving support from her enabler

How Can I Get My Loved One Help Without Enabling Addiction?

Learning how to not be an enabler while supporting a loved one with addiction can be challenging but it is essential for their recovery. Here are some strategies on how to get your loved one help without enabling their addiction:

Encourage treatment

Express your concern and support for their well-being. Encourage them to seek professional treatment, such as therapy, counseling, or rehab programs. Provide information about available resources and evidence-based treatment options.

Set boundaries

Establish clear boundaries that define acceptable behavior. For example, you can refuse to tolerate drug or alcohol use in your home and hold them accountable for seeking help or taking prescribed medications.

Participate in therapy

Consider participating in family or individual therapy sessions. Therapy can help you and your loved one address the emotional and relational aspects of addiction and recovery. It can also provide a supportive environment for open communication.

Stage an intervention

In some cases, an intervention may be necessary. With the guidance of a professional interventionist, you and other loved ones can come together to express your concerns, offer help, and encourage your loved one to accept treatment.

Avoid excuses

Refrain from making excuses for their behavior. Acknowledge that their actions are a consequence of their addiction. Avoid enabling by not covering up or justifying their actions due to their substance abuse.

Practice tough love

Sometimes, tough love is required. Avoid protecting your loved one from the natural consequences of their actions related to addiction. Allowing them to face these consequences may motivate them to seek help and change their behavior.

Remember that addiction is a chronic and relapsing condition, and professional guidance and support will streamline the recovery process. Seek help not only for your loved one but also for yourself, as dealing with addiction in a family member can be emotionally challenging.


How do you stop being an enabler?

To stop being an enabler, set boundaries, encourage accountability, and seek professional guidance if necessary. 

What causes someone to be an enabler?

Enabling behavior can stem from a desire to protect or avoid conflict. It may also result from fear of losing the relationship with the person they’re enabling. Family dynamics and a lack of awareness about enabling behaviors can contribute as well.

What is the difference between helping and enabling?

Helping involves providing support that encourages positive growth and self-sufficiency. Enabling, on the other hand, involves actions that shield someone from the consequences of their negative behaviors, ultimately hindering their growth and perpetuating harmful patterns.

What is an enabler in abuse?

An enabler in abuse is someone who unintentionally or knowingly facilitates an abusive situation, often by not intervening or taking steps to protect the victim. They may enable the abuser’s behavior by staying silent, making excuses, or downplaying the abuse.

An image of the Gratitude Lodge facility in Long Beach, California, where an enabler can find help for their loved ones

Get Help for a Loved One with Drug or Alcohol Addiction at Gratitude Lodge

Gratitude Lodge, located in Southern California, offers comprehensive support for individuals dealing with addiction and mental health challenges. Our rehab centers, which are all pet-friendly, are situated in both Newport Beach and Long Beach, CA.

We prioritize your safety and well-being through our carefully supervised medical detox program. This program provides a secure and seamless path for detoxification, setting the stage for your ongoing recovery journey. Once your body is purged of toxins, you can transition into our 30-day inpatient program.

Our treatment programs encompass a range of evidence-based interventions, including:

To take the crucial step from active addiction to lasting recovery today. Contact our admissions team at 888-861-1658 to get started.

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Joe Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been working in the addiction industry for half a decade and has been writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment during that time. He has experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.
Jenni Bussi

Jenni Russe MS, LPCC

Jenni Busse MS, LPSS is the Clinical Director at Gratitude Lodge. Jenni oversees the clinical program and the clinical team at Gratitude Lodge as a whole. Jenni has worked in treatment for almost 14 years. Her background as a licensed therapist and her passion for helping others intersected with addiction recovery when she started working primarily in detox residential treatment.

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