Addiction affects everyone in the user’s life. With 1 in 8 American adults suffering from addiction, that’s 12.5% of families also suffering.

Unfortunately, part of loving an addict comes with the temptation to enable them.

You want to show your loved one you care and won’t abandon them. This causes you to relax your boundaries and limits. But you could be doing more harm than good.

Wondering what is an enabler, anyways? Keep reading to find out if you’re enabling their addiction and how to stop.

What is an Enabler?

Users of drugs and alcohol become controlled by their addiction. It changes their sense of right and wrong and their own boundaries.

They may try to use drugs under your roof and expect you to turn a blind eye. They may ask you to lend them money for their habit. They may expect you to lie for them.

When you engage in enabling behaviors like these, you endorse their using. You’re essentially telling them to keep using, you’ll take care of them regardless.

Why is it Harmful?

This behavior is very harmful to the user’s health and wellness, as well as your own. Over 70 000 Americans died from drug overdose in 2017. The longer you enable them, the sooner that could happen.

You can love and care for them without enabling their habit.

Types of Enabling Behaviors

You may still be unsure if what you’re doing is enabling your loved one. There’s a lot of grey area when you live with an addict.

There are five common enabling behaviors to look out for.

1. Providing Shelter to Use In

Is your loved one allowed to use drugs or drink alcohol in your house?

If your loved one lives with you, make your house a sober-zone. Don’t buy drugs or alcohol. Lock up your prescription drugs.

Make it a firm rule that they cannot use in their bedroom, or anywhere on your property. Yes, that means they’ll likely go elsewhere to use. This may be hard for you, but it’s a crucial first step.

Your home needs to be a safe space for them to come back to. Allowing them to use there is enabling their use and de-crediting yourself. It’s basically saying, “I know what you’re doing is wrong, but please, keep going.”

2. Lying for Them

Do you make up an excuse for why they can’t come to Christmas dinner? Do you tell their job that they’re feeling ill when they don’t show up for work? Do you tell yourself that it’s only one more hit and they’ll stop?

Lying for them is enabling them to continue using. You’re making it possible for them to use without consequences.

What happens if you tell the rest of their family the truth? Consequences will occur that could potentially help them. They might lose their job, but that might be what needs to happen.

Tell your loved one that you will not lie for them anymore. Make them answer or lie for themselves; they must take ownership of their addiction.

3. Financially Supporting Their Habit

This is a common one for parents of addicts. Your son or daughter asks you for $20 for the fifth time this week. They promise to pay you back but never do.

You know the money you’re giving them is going to buy drugs or alcohol. So why do you give it to them?

Parents often worry about how they’ll get their substances without their money. It’s important to realize that you don’t want to fund their habit for life. And, their habit could cut their life short.  

It’s crucial you nip this in the bud. Tell them you will not be giving them any more money. They cannot take advantage of your love anymore.

4. Using Empty Threats

You might not think you’re an enabler because you kick them out when they use. You stopped paying their phone bill. For one month.

Empty threats are consequences that don’t last or don’t even happen. They tell the addict not to worry about them because your repercussions aren’t real.

It’s time to stick to your guns and set your boundaries. If you stop paying their phone bill, don’t resume until they’ve gotten help. If you threaten to kick them out if they use in your house, enforce it.

The trick is not to make threats you don’t want to enforce. Think about real consequences you can set and stick to.

5. Fulfilling Their Responsibilities

You don’t have to pick up their slack in your household. In many marriages, the sober spouse often takes over the other’s duties.

That could mean you start working an extra job to pay their half of the bills. You take care of the kids and the property. Your me-time is virtually non-existent.

This isn’t fair to you and it’s enabling them. By fulfilling their responsibilities, you’re encouraging them to spend their time using. If you have children, it can be severely damaging to grow up with an addict in the house.

How to Stop Enabling

Give them a heads up that things will be changing in your household. Tell them that you’re planning on setting new boundaries and enforcing them.

This gives them time to decide if they want to get help now or deal with the consequences.

Focus on creating a positive, safe environment. Consequences are there because you love them.

Get your entire family on board with your consequences. If there’s one weak link, they’ll get taken advantage of. Your loved one isn’t a bad person; they have a disease that causes bad behavior.   

Help is Always Available

If you’re wondering, “what is an enabler?” use the list above. These are the most common enabling behaviors you could be doing.

You don’t have to navigate this alone. Start meeting with a counselor or therapist to help you get through this. Your own personal wellness is as important as your loved one’s.

Discovery Institute offers family counseling and individual therapy. Consider going together as a family.

We also have effective and compassionate treatment programs for adults and young adults. Reach out today to get your family help it deserves. You’re not alone.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MD

Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MDDr. Jeffrey Berman is a psychiatrist in Teaneck, New Jersey and is affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. He received his medical degree from State University of New York Upstate Medical University and has been in practice for more than 20 years. He also speaks multiple languages, including French and Hebrew.

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