What is Enabling?

When discussing the topic of addictions, the term “enabler” can come up. An enabler is a general description of somebody whose behavior, either directly or indirectly, allows someone they care about to continue self-destructive patterns of behavior such as addiction. Enabling is something that usually refers to patterns within the context of drug or alcohol misuse, but it can also refer to patterns within close relationships that support any harmful behavior. Enabling can have a very damaging effect on the person suffering from an addiction, and the surrounded people close to the individual.

Examples of Enabling Behavior

People who enable loved ones do not intend to cause harm but enabling can often begin with the desire to help. Many people believe that conducting enabling behaviors could be just them trying to help the situation by either attempting to hide issues or making them go away, rather than helping the person by giving the tools to do it themselves, which is empowerment. This behavior is not helpful because it doesn’t make the issue disappear and can result in making people have less motivation to make the appropriate changes in terms of their addiction. Some examples of enabling behaviors include:

  • Taking on the responsibilities of the individual suffering from addiction. For example, cleaning their home, buying their groceries, or paying their bills. 
  • Making excuses for the behavior of the person to keep the peace. 
  • Covering for the individual suffering from the addiction. For example, calling in sick for them when they are not well enough to go to work. 
  • Not following through on certain demands, such as kicking the individual out of the home or leave them but do not follow through. 
  • Finishing a project the person was not able to complete by themselves. 
  • Blaming other people for the behavior, such as their friends, teachers, coworkers.
  • Correlating the behavior with some other issue such as shyness, loneliness, or another illness.
  • Using substances with the person to strengthen the relationship. 
  • Blaming yourself entirely for the behavior of the individual experiencing the addiction. 
  • Avoiding certain issues that need addressing out of worry that the person will become aggressive or angry.

The Signs of Enabling Behavior

If you have concerns you or someone you know is displaying enabling behavior, the following signs can help you to recognize this. 

Ignoring Problematic Behavior

Some people will ignore a loved one’s behavior for a number of reasons. For example, if the enabler thinks their loved one is looking for attention, they may believe that ignoring the behavior will stop them from continuing on this path. 

Avoiding Issues

If you have a loved one who is attempting to “sneak” around the issue and are continuing on a path of self-destructive behavior but are involving you in some way, for example, by asking you to take drink or drugs with them or taking money from your wallet, many people believe avoiding the discussion is best in case of a negative reaction. Avoiding this prevents you from bringing attention to the problem and helping your loved one address their addictive behavior. 

Taking On More Responsibilities

If you are enabling a loved one, you may think you’re trying to help by taking care of things that they leave undone, for example, household chores and daily activities. But it’s important to remember that temporary support can help them during a difficult time such as grief or depression, but if you are trying to make things easier for someone suffering from an addiction, this could be an enabling behavior. 

Denying the Problems

It can be difficult to admit that somebody needs help, so you may choose to believe them when they say they haven’t been drinking or taking drugs as much as you think. But by not acknowledging the problem, you are encouraging it and denying the issue, which creates bigger challenges, making it harder for them to ask for help even if they know they need the support.

How Can You Stop Enabling Behavior?

If you think you are an enabler, it’s important to take the appropriate steps to ensure that you can help your loved one: 

Let Them See the Natural Consequences of Their Actions

If you clean up after the person suffering from the addiction, not cleaning up when they come home and not shielding them from the consequences of their behaviors could give them the perspective of what they are doing to themselves and to others around them. 

Confront the Situation

Confronting your loved one may be difficult, but holding firm boundaries and addressing the situation is the best direction to take for everyone’s sake.

Being Confident in Saying No When Necessary

Saying no to your loved one can help be hard, but it starts with you setting the appropriate boundaries and moving forward from their negative behavior.

Stop Helping Out Financially

If you are funding their habit directly or indirectly, withholding financial support forces them to be more self-reliant, meaning that the individual suffering from the addiction will have to make a major change.

Make a Plan To Cope With the Problems

Those that are an enabler have to take a step back and realize they are also a victim in this. Following through on what you are doing by taking control over the situation allows you to look at what you need to do for yourself to ensure you don’t continue to enable the individual suffering from the addiction, which could include setting boundaries and attending support groups. This also means you need to take steps to protect yourself and others who are directly affected by it. 

Seek Help From a Professional

Professional support like Peaks Recovery can offer many resources for those that have been affected by addiction. If someone you love is suffering from an addiction, it’s important to get them the help they need so they can start on the path to recovery, but it can also help you to understand the ways you were enabling them. 

It is a difficult thing to deal with, and we understand that the process of recovery is not just about the individual suffering from the addiction but also about ensuring that everybody involved is able to go through the process and understand that addiction is not experienced by one person, but it has a greater impact on everyone around them. Enabling can be a coping mechanism, but it’s important to realize that enabling behavior is not healthy for the individual suffering from an addiction.