What is an Enabler?
In This Article
An enabler is someone in the life of an addicted person whose behavior undermines that person's addiction recovery. This could be a:
- Romantic partner
- Loved one
While most enablers are well-meaning, they do more harm than good. Enablers will unknowingly entice or encourage a person’s bad behavior, which sets back any progress with recovery.
8 Signs You May Be Enabling Someone (Enabling Behaviors)
Anyone could be an enabler without even realizing it. There are no particular personality traits that make someone an enabler. Instead, it’s determined by your emotional connection to a person.
The closer you are to a person needing help, the more likely you will enable them. This is because it’s harder to draw the line between acceptance and unacceptable behavior.
Unfortunately, many enablers struggle to understand the recovery process. Here are eight signs you might be enabling someone in your life:
1. You Deny Their Behaviors
Denial is a tell-tale sign of an enabler. Because you’re close to the person in need, you don’t want to believe they’re doing what they’re doing.
You may have false hope that it’s just a phase. If you turn a blind eye to what an addict is doing, you hope it may pass.
Unfortunately, it won’t. Substance abuse disorder (SUD) is a disease, and they need professional help.
2. You Engage in the Same Behaviors Around Them
It’s not easy for someone with substance abuse problems to avoid drugs or alcohol. Keeping alcohol or other drugs accessible can make it difficult for someone with an addiction.
Worse, consuming drugs or alcohol around that person makes it harder for them to break their addiction. While you may not think it’s a big deal, it complicates recovery.
3. You Cover Up for Them All the Time
Covering for an addicted person when they get in trouble can enable them. Although it might seem like you’re helping them, you’re doing the opposite.
Rather than helping them understand the consequences of their actions, you’re letting them get away with it. This makes them feel it’s okay if they get in trouble because you’ll be there to bail them out.
4. You Try to “Keep the Peace”
Enablers will often avoid confrontation to keep the peace. If you don’t want to bother or confront an addicted person, you may be enabling them.
When they ask, you give them money without asking how they’ll use it. You let them get away with substance abuse because you know that calling for an intervention could upset them or even drive them away.
5. You Place Blame on Others
Enablers will often blame other people for the person’s bad behavior. If you find yourself instinctually siding with the addicted person at all times, you may be an enabler.
Someone with an addiction needs to take accountability for their actions and take steps to improve their lives. This, of course, is harder if you insinuate that their behaviors are acceptable by blaming others.
6. You Provide Financial Assistance
There's nothing wrong with extending financial help to a loved one from time to time. However, giving money is enabling if they always use it irresponsibly.
7. You Frequently Pick Up Their Slack
You may find yourself taking on more than your own share of obligations:
- Other essential things
There is a fine line between providing support and enabling. If your help makes it easy for a loved one to continue with their problematic behavior, you may be enabling them.
8. You Set Aside Your Own Needs
When you start sacrificing your needs to care for an alcohol or drug-addicted loved one, you may be enabling them. It’s time to sit back and analyze the situation if:
- You’re struggling financially
- You lack time for self-care
- Your relationships are suffering
If you allow this, you may be enabling them without knowing it.
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How to Stop Enabling Someone
Being an enabler doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. Enablers are often empathetic and compassionate people.
Enablers also tend to carry false guilt, suffer from anxiety, and avoid conflict. In doing so, they encourage problematic behavior.
Here’s how to stop being an enabler:
1. Set Boundaries
Set a fine line for what you’re willing to put up with and what’s allowed for them. This includes:
- Not giving them money to fund their addiction
- Not encouraging their substance abuse by drinking alcohol or taking drugs around them
- Not allowing their bad behavior in your company or under your roof
When they overstep their boundaries, make sure to give them proper consequences. You have to make them understand the gravity of their actions and behavior.
2. Hold Them Accountable
Don’t pick up the pieces every time. Quit making excuses for them, covering up for them, and blaming others for their problems.
They need to understand the gravity of the situation. They can’t do that if you always bail them out of trouble. It may be hard, but it’ll be better for them in the long run.
3. Stage an Intervention
An intervention can be a good way to help them understand their problems. Sit them down and confront them about their actions. You may also consider talking with your friends and family, so you don’t have to do it alone.
4. Seek Professional Addiction Treatment
Handling a person with SUD is stressful and challenging. But you don’t have to do it alone. Consider calling for help.
Some specialists and professionals can help you or your loved one to recover from SUD. There are rehab and detox programs for them when they’re ready to change.
What Happens When an Enabler Stops Enabling
When an enabler stops enabling, the person with an alcohol or drug addiction may have an easier time seeking help. An addict's behavior may change because of this. Fortunately, treatment programs are available when they’re ready to change.
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How to Find Treatment for Addiction
If you know someone who needs professional help, treatment is available. Health professionals can provide medical advice.
Additionally, other treatment options help address a loved one's addiction.
This includes support groups, therapies, medical treatments, and more:
- Addiction rehab: Involves checking yourself into a rehab facility for inpatient or outpatient treatment
- Alcoholics Anonymous (AA): A 12-step program designed to help you become sober and maintain sobriety
- Counseling: Provides techniques and guidance to help you stay sober after treatment
- Medication-assisted treatment: Involves using medication, counseling, and therapy to treat addiction
Enabling someone refers to undermining a person’s addiction recovery. This happens when you allow them, entice them, or encourage their bad behavior.
People may enable an addicted person whether they know it or not. In some cases, empathy and goodwill can lead to enabling behavior.
If you want to stop enabling someone, ensure you:
- Set boundaries
- Hold them accountable
- Confront their behavior
- Get professional help
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- Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MD. “What Is an Enabler in a Drug Addiction and How Can You Identify Them?” The Discovery Institute, The Discovery Institute, 2020.
- Editor. “How to Stop Being an Enabler: Colorado Addiction Treatment.” AspenRidge Recovery Centers, 2020.
- “What Is an Enabler? 6 Signs You Might Be Enabling an Addict.” The Dawn Wellness Centre and Rehab Thailand, 2020.
- Arlotta, C.J. “The Best Treatment for Drug Addicts is Community.” Forbes, 2015.
- Lundberg, Kelly, MD. “Environmental Risk Factors.”The Science of Addiction: Genetics and the Brain. Learn.Genetics.utah.edu., 2017.
- Haugen et al. “Family Relationships and Peer Influence.” Family.JRank.org.