Family Members of Addicts: The Enabler

Addiction is a disease that impacts each member of a family unit in a different way. Family members often take on different roles in their relation to the addict once the addiction becomes known. One of these unhealthy roles is of the enabler.The role of the enabler is perhaps one of the most damaging roles to be in. Due to this, it is critical to know the traits of an enabler and ask yourself if you may display some of them. Educating yourself properly on addiction and its impacts can help avoid even more damage to the addiction and family dynamic.

Behaviors of The Enabler

Living in Denial

Enablers commonly live in a “fantasy world” where their loved one is not being harmed by addiction. They deny the severity of their loved one’s addiction, often making excuses for it. The enabler ignores obvious red flags, such as their addicted family member neglecting responsibilities, missing social obligations, or losing their job. Ignoring and making excuses for your addicted loved one does nothing productive and simply allows the addiction to continue.

Projecting Blame onto Others

To protect their loved one, the enabler may project blame and anger on others close to the addict. They do this as a way of protecting themselves and the addict, unable to believe their loved one could ever slip into addiction.

Covering for the Addict

Making excuses for someone’s substance abuse relays the message that there are no consequences for their actions. The enabler may be doing this with good intentions at the moment, but the negative impacts can be long lasting. An example of this behavior would be calling into your loved one’s work saying they are sick when in reality they’re high, blacked out, or hungover.


Addiction is an uncomfortable subject, especially when confronting a loved one about it. Sometimes it seems easier to just avoid the problem until it goes away. You may begin hiding money so your addicted family member doesn’t steal it, or only going to restaurants that do not serve alcohol. This only hurts your loved one in the long run, as they are not being confronted about a damaging behavior they are engaging in.

Not Maintaining Boundaries

Not carrying out consequences when your loved one crosses a boundary sends the message that you are not serious about the boundary and that it has no meaning. You may also be teaching your loved one that you are more relaxed about other boundaries as well. However, healthy boundaries are critical in any relationship with an addict.For example, if you tell your loved one that you don’t want to be around them when they are drunk or high, but then give up and do it anyway because their behaviors don’t change, the behaviors will only get worse. The situation will repeat and the addiction will get even worse.

Completing Your Loved One’s Responsibilities

Enablers often find themselves taking care of their addicted loved one’s responsibilities when they stop completing them due to the addiction. This can involve cleaning, taking care of their children, or doing any other essentials that they are no longer taking care of.This behavior sends the addict the message that they can just continue using substances without any consequences due to their slacking off. The addiction will continue and the enabler will simply keep picking up the slack.

The Impact of Enabling Behavior

Addicts also live in a “fantasy world” of denial and don’t believe their addiction is really bad. Addiction allows them to become experts at constantly coming up with excuses and justifications for their drug or alcohol abuse. When an enabler comes along and takes away the consequences of addiction in their life, this will only fuel their train of thought regarding their denial and allow them to continue their substance abuse.Forced treatment is almost never a good idea. An addict must realize there is a problem and realize getting treatment is better than continuing down the path of addiction. They cannot realize this if there are no negative impacts of addiction on their lives due to an enabler sweeping up the wreckage. Allowing an addict to feel the negatives associated with addiction can help convince them to seek treatment.

Stopping the Enabling

If you find yourself to be an enabler, it can be difficult to stop displaying problematic behavior and allowing your loved one to continue in addiction. It can be a daunting task, but not impossible. Just because you are no longer enabling your loved one, that doesn’t mean you cannot stick around to support and help them on this journey of addiction and recovery.Consider your behaviors and if they are making your loved one’s addiction easier by not making them have consequences. If this is the case, you need to change your behavior. To stop enabling your loved one, work on bringing more attention to their addiction. You can do this in a nice way, but you have to bring the issue into the light and address it, letting them know it is not okay.Encourage them to get help, and talk about how you can help them look for recovery addiction centers together. Instead of projecting blame onto others, understand that addiction is a disease and choices can lead to it, but it is its own monster. Keep your boundaries and uphold them, remembering that it is okay to say no when your loved one comes asking for help. If what they are asking for will enable their addiction, say no.Most of all, remember to take care of yourself. Address your needs and take care of your mental health before trying to help someone else. You cannot pour time and attention into someone else if you are an empty cup.

Finding out your loved one has fallen victim to addiction can be a heartbreaking moment. It is understandable to want to protect them, but taking away the consequences of addiction from their life can lead to even more devastating consequences. You must allow your loved one to feel the impact of addiction and realize that sobriety is a better life. Understanding the behaviors of an enabler and asking yourself if you are displaying them can help you halt them.For more information about family dynamics in addiction,contact Northstar Transitions at (303) 558-6400.

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