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What Does it Mean to Enable an Addict?

If you love someone with a drug or alcohol addiction, you probably understand the intense feelings that can surround this condition. Watching your loved one struggle with the consequences of substance abuse can bring up many emotions: anger, sadness, anxiety, hopelessness, and more.

Knowing how to help an addicted loved one can be very challenging, especially if they do not seem to understand the severity of their addiction. You want to help, but how can you support someone who doesn’t actively want treatment?

Many people enable their addicted loved ones while trying to help them. Enabling behaviors often come from a place of love or concern, but they can actually make a problem worse. It’s essential to understand what enabling is, how to identify it, and what steps you can take to stop these behaviors.

This article will explore what it means to enable an addict, how to recognize these behaviors, and things that you can do to help without enabling them. Reach out to the caring specialists at the Mandala Healing Center to learn about our supportive treatment programs or for guidance about how to help an addicted loved one.

What Does it Mean to Enable an Addict?

An “enabler” is a person who behaves in a way that allows an addicted loved one to continue acting in a self-destructive manner. While the term “enabler” has negative connotations, it’s important to understand that people often engage in enabling behaviors without understanding what they are doing.

Here are some of the ways people might enable an addict.

Giving them money

While you may have good intentions in helping an addict financially, giving money can do more harm than good. For example, if the addict in your life asks you for money because they can no longer afford their rent or food, you may want to help them so that they avoid losing their home or going hungry.

However, providing money means your loved one can continue to make the choices they’ve been making without significant consequences–and this can keep them from recognizing their need for help.

Making excuses

It’s natural to want to protect your loved one from criticism, judgment, or consequences stemming from their behaviors. Enablers may go out of their way to protect their addicted loved ones from these negative consequences. But covering up or making excuses for your loved one’s actions makes it possible for them to continue living in a destructive pattern of behaviors that includes substance abuse.

An example of enabling would be calling your spouse’s workplace to say they are too sick to work when they are, in fact, hungover or intoxicated. In the moment, it may seem like a sensible thing to do to protect your spouse’s job. However, doing this may cause your spouse to believe you agree with their behavior and will always cover for them.

Ignoring problematic behavior

Substance abuse and addiction can make people think and behave differently than they usually would. But loved ones often ignore erratic, inappropriate, or concerning behaviors out of politeness or not wanting to “rock the boat.” People may also believe ignoring problematic behaviors will deprive the addict of attention and cause them to stop “acting out.”

An example of this may be finding drug paraphernalia among your loved one’s belongings but choosing not to bring it up. Another might be ignoring your addicted loved one’s inappropriate behavior during social gatherings and choosing not to talk about it the next day.

People may also fear their loved one’s reactions if they confront them about their behaviors.

Enabling behaviors often arise out of love and concern for an addicted person. However, it’s crucial to identify these behaviors and learn other strategies that are more likely to help the addict get the help they need to overcome substance abuse.

Am I an Enabler?

Enabling an addict can keep them from realizing they need help and seeking treatment. It’s important to evaluate your behaviors and look for signs that you may be enabling an addicted loved one.

Here are some of the signs you may be enabling an addict:

  • You deny their behaviors or hope the problem will go away on its own with a little time
  • You drink or use drugs around them, or you keep drugs and alcohol in the house when they are there
  • You cover up for their behaviors or shortcomings related to their substance abuse
  • You will do anything to keep the peace or avoid a confrontation
  • Instead of focusing on the addict’s behaviors, you blame others—for example, you may believe if other people were kinder/quieter/more understanding, your loved one wouldn’t have to use drugs or alcohol to cope
  • You give the addict money
  • You work hard to complete their share of the household responsibilities–childcare, chores, paying bills, etc.

Enablers often put aside their own needs and desires to take care of an addicted person’s needs. They may feel exhausted, frustrated, or resentful about their relationship with the addicted person and may develop depression, anxiety, or other mental health symptoms.

Enabling hurts both you and the addicted person. Learning other ways to help an addicted person is essential to your health, your loved one’s well-being, and the health of your relationship.

Learn How to Stop Enabling an Addict

Enabling an addict doesn’t help them get the treatment they need to overcome their substance abuse and move forward. At the Mandala Healing Center, we offer holistic, effective addiction treatment programs and support to entire families that can lead to sobriety and healing.

Reach out to our admissions specialists now to learn more about our programs, schedule an intake assessment, or learn more about how to stop enabling an addict in your life.