Are You Enabling Addiction? Signs You’re an Enabler

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Addiction to alcohol or drugs is a family disease. Although the drinker or drug user is obviously sick, his or her loved ones also become sick. The family worries, they incessantly try to control the addict, they try to cover up for him, and they lose sight of their own needs as all energy goes to take care of the addict, potentially becoming what is known as an enabler.

The family may believe they are helping the addict by bailing him out of jail or paying his debts. However, these behaviors are actually not helpful. They are enabling, harming their mental health in the process.

Enabling addiction means you are allowing an addict or alcoholic to continue their substance abuse and you are preventing them from experiencing the full consequences of their actions. You may even make them worse.

Are you enabling the addict in your life or helping them? Here are seven questions to ask yourself if you have an addict in your life.

1. Are You Lying on Behalf of the Addict?

Do you tell your child’s employer he is sick and can’t come to work when he is passed out or when you don’t even know where he is? Do you tell his spouse that everything is OK when it really isn’t?

Sometimes a parent or a wife will find themselves lying to doctors, the police, and even other family members in an effort to protect the addict in their life.

This behavior is enabling, and it actually is more harmful than helpful.

2. Have You Continued to Give the Addict or Alcoholic Money Even Though She Continually Spends It on Drugs and Alcohol?

Many family members will bail an alcoholic out of jail after a DUI, or give an addict money after he has lost his job. They honestly want to help him get back on his feet, and they think the money will help.

However, they may be shocked to realize that the money just goes for more drugs and booze.

Addicts and alcoholics are in the throes of the disease. They will lie and manipulate to get whatever they need to get more of their substance.

If you are continuing to give the addict money when you know what they are using it for, you are enabling their addiction.

3. Are You Trying to Take Care of Them at Home Instead of Sending Them to a Hospital or Rehab?

Some people think they can help the alcoholic or drug addict get better. Instead of sending them for professional help, they think that they will have more privacy and TLC at home.

This approach is not only erroneous, but it is also dangerous. Someone who is detoxing from alcohol or drugs needs medical supervision. Detoxing can make someone very sick, and some people can die if they are not closely monitored and medicated.

Because detoxing is so hard, the person going through it may try anything to get out of the house and get more of what they need. Without the security of a hospital or rehab, they may end up back on the street again, facing relapse and even death.


A close relationship with an addict can be difficult to manage, with friends and loved ones sometimes filling the role of the enabler despite their better judgement.

4. Are You Alternatively Resentful and Protective of the Addict in Your Life?

It is extremely difficult to keep trying to help the addict and to keep”failing” over and over again. It can be very hard to mold your life around helping them and never get any thanks and be constantly thwarted.

Enablers find themselves in an emotional bind. They love the person who causes them such pain. They hate them for making their life so miserable.

If you find that you are unhappily attached to the wild swings and unpredictability of the addict in your life, you are facing the challenges of the enabler.

5. Do You Put the Needs of You and the Rest of Your Family Behind Those of the Addict?

When an addict takes over a family, other people’s needs get forgotten. Many children are neglected when parents are struggling with this condition.

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Often the family becomes caretakers, and all of their energy, time, and money go towards helping the addict or worrying about him or her.

This feeds the addict’s massive ego, as everything becomes about them. Instead of helping them, this constant attention can make their condition worse.

6. Are You Stressed out and Depressed Because You Cannot Control the Situation?

The ups and downs of life with an alcoholic or addict take a toll on the family. Family relationships are warped by the constant focus on the person in trouble. Is he or she in jail? Is he or she dead?

Family members experience great stress over this loss of control and their powerlessness in the face of disease. By accepting that they can not control or cure the addict, they can find some measure of relief.

Often the entire family must receive counseling and therapy to recover from one person’s addiction. Rehabs often provide family therapy for everyone who has been hurt by the disease.

If you are worried that you cannot afford rehab or therapy, know that there are many programs available which are covered by insurance.

7. Are You Unable to Say No to the Addict, or Do You Constantly Believe Them When They Say They Want to Stop?

“Just this one time, Mama.” “I will get better, Daddy.” “I promise, I promise.”

These are the lies that the enabler will hear over and over again.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. The enabler will constantly give in to the addict, hoping that this time will be different. That is insane!

Enablers need help in learning how to stand up to an addict and do what is in their best interests, even when they are accustomed to helping, acceding and acquiescing to everything the addict demands.

Enabling Addiction: Saying No Is the Best Help

Being an enabler does not help an addict get better long term and it can even drive him or her to his or her death. The family who has been enabling for many years needs assistance in learning new behaviors too. When they learn how to detach and stop enabling, they can help the addict get on the road to long term recovery.

For more information on helping you, learning how to set boundaries, and helping your loved one overcome addiction, check out the benefits of family therapy at DreamLife Recovery.


  1. “What is Enabling?: Ending Behavior and Resources – Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation; Elina Kala, MA,; 6 April 2016
  2. “Am I Enabling Addiction by Helping My Child?” – Partnership to End Addiction; Pat A; Oct. 2018