How do I stop enabling my loved one?

Does this situation feel familiar? Someone you love has a substance use disorder. You’ve tried to help them time and time again. You’ve loaned them money, you’ve offered your home as a place to stay, and you’ve begged him or her to change. Perhaps you’ve bought them drugs because they promised to enter treatment if you did.

You know you’re enabling, but you don’t see any other options. After all, you love this person deeply. You’ve spent countless nights awake worrying, and you don’t know what you would do if something terrible were to happen, so you try to keep them safe.

And so, you continue with the cycle of giving and giving and giving despite a growing resentment towards the individual for their behavior and lack of regard for you. If this sounds familiar, read on to learn more about enabling and how to stop it.

What Is Enabling?

It may seem simple, but enabling is anything but. You may be doing it without realizing it. It can be challenging to find the balance between supporting the individual and enabling them but it is crucial that you do so for their sake AND your own.

Enabling occurs when your behaviors prevent the individual from experiencing the natural consequences of their behavior. While these consequences can be severe they are the only proven impetus for change. 

There are numerous examples of enabling. Here are a few common ones:

  • Keeping secrets for the addict or alcoholic
  • Bailing out the addict or alcoholic financially or legally
  • Blaming others for the addict’s behavior or addiction itself (i.e., partners, friends, employers) or making other excuses for bad behavior
  • Attempting to control the addict or alcoholics behavior
  • Making empty threats
  • Providing caretaking for the addict or alcoholic.
  • Ignoring undesirable behavior or minimizing its severity
  • Prioritizing the addict or alcoholic needs above anyone else’s needs including yourself

Why Do People Enable Addicts and Alcoholics?

Most of the time, enabling comes from a place of love and lack of understanding. The enabler loves the addict and believes they can “fix” them by loving them and “helping them” whenever they ask.

People also enable addicts or alcoholics out of fear. They fear that if they don’t come running every time the addict or alcoholic has a problem, that something terrible will happen.

Many loved ones want to shield the addict or alcoholic in their lives from pain. They believe that this is for the best. Addicts and Alcoholics will quickly learn how- and who- they can manipulate to get what they want. As a result, they don’t often feel inspired to change their behavior. Instead, they feel more encouraged to keep doing what they’ve already been doing knowing that you will be there whenever they call to clean up the mess.

How Can You Stop Enabling?

Enabling, like drug addiction, can become its own nasty habit. Loved ones who are deeply entrenched in this habit essentially have an addiction of their own. They are in essence addicted to the alcoholic or addict in their lives. This is unhealthy for both parties.

Stopping enabling is not simple. It involves being honest with yourself, setting boundaries, and letting go of control (or the control you imagine you have). We find that professional help is often needed. Here at Harbor Wellness and Recovery Center, we offer family counseling sessions at no additional cost to the patient or their family as part of the course of treatment. We have seen a lot of success with families learning to set boundaries and stop enabling, often resulting in favorable outcomes for the alcoholic or addicted loved one in the long term.

Harbor Wellness and Recovery Center offer various levels of care to treat those struggling with substance use of all kinds, as well as their families through family counseling sessions as mentioned above. We also treat individuals with co-occurring mental health conditions. If you or someone you care about is struggling with any form of substance use we can help. We are available 24/7/365 and offer no-cost and totally confidential consultations to discuss options for helping you or your loved one. Call us at 732-847-4555 or email us at to start the journey to recovery today.