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Dr. Cassidy Blair, Psy.D. Licensed Clinical Psychologist | PSY 22022

Dr. Cassidy Blair, Psy.D.

enabling an addict
Tough Love: 8 Signs You’re Enabling an Addict and How to Stop Doing It

The pain of having a loved one wrapped up in addiction is like no other. Watching a loved one struggle and wanting to help is in many peoples’ nature. However, many times, trying to help an addict ends up harming more than helping.

It’s pretty obvious that relationships suffer when addiction is involved. Though generally you mean well, enabling an addict only makes life harder for all involved. So what does it mean to enable, and how can you stop?

What Is An Enabler?

An enabler is someone who makes it easy for an addict to continue their destructive behaviors. Many times, enablers think they are helping the addict, not harming. Even though enablers may hate the behavior (e.g. drug use), they fear the consequences of those behaviors even more.

What Does It Mean to Enable an Addict?

The desire to help people is something that most people exhibit in some way or another, whether that looks like volunteering within your community, helping push a disabled vehicle out of traffic, or loaning money to your drug-addicted loved one.

When you enable an addict, it gives that person more opportunities to continue to abuse drugs. So while you may be patting yourself on the back because you were able to help your loved one, you are also contributing to their addiction.

How Do I Know I’m Enabling an Addict?

It may be difficult for you to see that you are enabling your loved one. Enablement is often disguised as help, and as discussed above, humans not only have an innate desire to help, but they also fear the outcome if they don’t help.

Acting out of Fear

When you love someone, you want to do what’s best for them. If an addict approaches you for money to pay rent, it can be difficult to say no. Saying no might mean they can’t afford a place to live, and in turn, may become homeless. No one wants to see their loved one become homeless, addict or not.

Ignoring Bad Behavior

Most people have heard the old adage, “love is blind.” Love is blind when it comes to enabling because addicts can be whomever they need to be to get what they need to fuel their addiction. When you enable an addict, you may overlook bad behaviors that are blatant red flags for addiction.

Covering for Them

In addition to ignoring red flags, enablers are also known for covering up for their addicted loved ones. A mother may lie to her family or friends about her child’s addiction. A spouse may tell family and friends that everything is fine in their relationship. A friend may tell others that their mutual friend is doing fine.

Blaming Others

Another warning sign to tell if you’re enabling an addict or not is blaming others. Is your partner falling victim to addiction, but you’re overlooking their behaviors by blaming their friends or family? Addiction is scary, and it’s natural to want to blame others for something that carries such stigma.

Putting Their Needs Before Yours

When you love someone, you’ll do anything for them. Your love for your spouse, child, or loved one could move mountains, but at what cost?

Enabling a drug addict often means putting their needs before yours. Have you ever taken a loan to help your addicted loved one? Have you ever had to adjust your lifestyle to continue to help your addicted loved one?

If you answered yes to either of those, you are enabling an addict.

What is Codependency?

Codependency and enablement often go hand in hand. Codependency is when a person relies heavily on a loved one who requires support. In the case of addiction, this is when the enabler relies on the relationship of the addict, attempting to meet all the needs of the relationship alone.

The codependent person feels rewarded because they feel needed. While the codependent person may have good intentions, remaining in a codependent relationship can be draining. The relationship is not victimless. 

Not every enabler-addict relationship is codependent, but many can be.

When You Need Treatment as the Loved One of an Addict

The first thing you need to do is recognize your loved ones’ addiction.

It can be difficult to say “no” to your loved ones when they reach out to you for help. If you are struggling to enjoy your life because of what you feel you must to do protect your addicted loved one, it’s time to seek treatment.

How to Stop Enabling an Addict

Of course, it takes more than realizing you’ve been enabling an addict and seeking treatment to be able to stop. How can you stop enabling your loved one?

First things first, don’t make excuses for the addict. If the person doesn’t show up to a family affair, or shows up intoxicated, or loses their job or home, don’t make excuses for them. Don’t cover up for them. Be honest with your family, friends, and loved ones — so-and-so is suffering from addiction, and that is why this happened.

Don’t be afraid to let your loved one experience natural consequences. If the addict spends all their money on drugs or alcohol and can’t pay rent, the natural consequence is that they lose their home. Don’t finance their addiction by picking up the tab for rent or other expenses.

Leave messes for the addict — literally and figuratively. Did they have a binge and leave their bottles, cans, and trash everywhere? Don’t clean up after them. Make them take responsibility for their mess. Did they have a falling out with a mutual friend or family member? Don’t smooth it over. Let them figure it out.

Follow through on what you say. Don’t tell the addict that you’re not going to pay their car note, then turn around and pay it. Following through will show the addict that they can’t manipulate you and that you’re no longer going to enable their addiction.

Lastly, work on yourself. Go to counseling. There is nothing wrong with self-work.

What’s Next?

Recognizing that you’re enabling an addict to continue their addiction is a painful realization, especially when you love that person. Beyond seeking help for the addict, it may also be prudent that you seek help for yourself.

We are here for you to help you through this difficult time. We encourage you to contact us for an appointment and get on the road to recovery today.

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