An enabler is generally someone who creates flexibility for a loved one to continue a negative habit or behavior.

It is difficult to watch a loved one spiral downward into addiction. In doing so, one might feel inclined to “help in any way they can.” Sometimes it can get confusing to distinguish between what behaviors are helpful or harmful to the addict and it is easy to fall into the trap of becoming an enabler, in most cases, unintentionally.

An enabler is generally someone who creates flexibility for a loved one to continue a negative habit or behavior. In reference to a drug and alcohol problem, an enabler provides the means for a loved one who is an addict to continue using. An enabler usually struggles with the conflicting idea of what is right in the short term compared to the long term for their loved one.

In the short term, they might see their loved one face catastrophic withdrawal symptoms in the absence of substance use, prompting the enabler to facilitate use of that substance. However, the enabler likely realizes that in the long term, life for their loved one is not sustainable as an addict and the only path to a better life is through sobriety.

Enabling behaviors might include lending money, lying or making excuses for someone, failing to address larger issues, or helping their loved one directly get a hold of the substance. Enablers are usually parents, children, romantic partners, siblings, or friends. An enabler’s intentions are generally good, but the outcome can be very detrimental. Your emotional connection to your loved one who is an addict factors heavily into the susceptibility to becoming an enabler.

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Empowering vs. Enabling

In contrast, empowering vs. enabling is a safer, more effective approach to dealing with a loved one who is an addict. Through this approach, it is helpful to give a loved one help in accessing resources or tools that could help with addiction. Also, encouraging the addict to make decisions on their own empowers them.

Signs of an Enabler

Enabling behavior is protective in nature and likely disregards indications of a loved one’s substance use problems.

To determine if you are an enabler, ask yourself if you are exhibiting any of the following behaviors:

  • Covering up your loved one’s behavior
  • Blaming circumstances or someone else for your loved one’s behavior
  • Ignoring or tolerating unacceptable behavior
  • Providing financial assistance to facilitate a loved one’s substance use
  • Assuming some of your loved one’s responsibilities unnecessarily
  • Avoiding the discussion centered around a loved one’s problem
  • Denying that a loved one has a problem
  • Pushing your needs to the side in favor of a loved one
  • Feeling resentment towards a loved one

As an enabler, it is so easy to fall into many of these poor habits. It is a challenging position to be in, wanting to help, but knowing deep down that a loved one is experiencing a substance problem.

Enabling can severely limit an addict’s path to recovery. In most cases, an enabler actually motivates an addiction to continue. That said, the earlier you can address the situation, the better.

How to Quit Being an Enabler

To start, it is mandatory admit to yourself and your loved one that you are an enabler. Once you have made this determination, resolving your behavior can begin. The road ahead might not be easy, as you will be forcing your loved one to get used to a different dynamic with you.

You must confront their substance abuse issue head on and do everything in your power to limit your loved one’s continued use. Most importantly, you must tell your loved one that you recognize that they have a drug or alcohol problem.

Here are a few specific actions that can be taken:

  • Encourage and help facilitate getting a loved one professional help
  • Remain strict about boundaries and consequences for certain actions
  • Research therapy options for yourself
  • Eliminate any type of substance use in your loved one’s presence

You might also harbor deep feelings of guilt about allowing a situation to continue for as long as it has and worry about the future of your relationship with your loved one. As a result, if you find that you have become an enabler, you will likely need to seek professional help for yourself and your loved one in order to properly rectify the situation. The longer you wait, the further damage you risk in both your life and your loved one’s life.

Do you fear that you might be an enabler in your loved one’s life? You are not alone. We are here for you and we are here to help.