Addiction, Enablement:

Enabling An Addict | How Do You Know If You Are?

9 Apr 2011 by Recovering You, 13 Comments »


What is enablement?Is it right, or wrong to enable?Are you enabling?

It can be really hard to know if you should enable, if you are enabling and what constitutes enablement. But it’s a really important thing to be aware of, and to try and avoid doing when loving an addict.

So what is enablement?

Enablement is providing the means or opportunity for a person to do something. In this case, for a person to engage in their addiction.

By enabling, we make it possible for our loved ones addiction to continue operating. It’s almost like providing it nourishment, to allow it to keep on living and growing. So it’s never a good thing to keep doing. It prolongs the path to recovery, it delays the ‘rock bottom’ that so many addicts need to experience before they look towards recovery.

How do you know if you are enabling?

If you are doing any of the following, you are probably enabling:

  • Giving your addict money
  • Making excuses for your addict
  • Paying their bills
  • Paying for activities, nights out etc
  • Buying them food
  • Lying for them
  • Allowing them to live rent free
  • Accepting poor behaviour
  • Brushing off the impact of their problem on your life

An addict needs enablement. It allows them to remain within the shadow of their addiction. In fact, without knowing an addiction has taken hold of the person you love, you will likely have unwittingly been enabling simply by loving them, being kind, being yourself, looking away and ignoring those hunches that something was wrong.

Even once you know you have your loved one has or has developed an addict, at times you may find yourself enabling to try and placate a situation, to do anything to make them happy. Don’t do this, please. It might give you some peace at the time, but I promise that the backlash that follows as the addiction continues is not worth it. And it won’t be the last time that you are looked upon for enablement. An addict will always come back for another serve.

I often get asked “How do I support without enabling?”. The answer is, as long as your loved one is still actively engaging in their addiction, you can’t fully support them. You can love them, and be ready to support their recovery, but you cannot support them while addicted.

It can be extremely difficult and distressing to stop enabling, even once you are aware of doing it. You will probably feel guilty, disloyal, unkind and hypocritical if you have done any of the above in the past. In being refused enablement your loved one will likely become angry, frustrated or even more manipulative to try and reinstate the enablement but by holding your ground, you are gaining strength. You are telling the addiction “NO! No I will not continue to feed you and let you live on. I will not be an accomplice to your destruction”. You are making a choice to live with integrity in a situation where it can feel like there is none. It will be hard at first but in time it will become easier, and you will feel more resiliant to the addictions pleas. You will have control of YOUR role in the addicts life.

Although it might seem the opposite for your addict, and for you, ceasing all enablement is the right way to love your addict during their battle with this disease. It is the most genuine love you can show them because you are fighting for them, fighting the demon that has hold of them, starving it of it’s opportunity to keep on growing. And you are protecting yourself from the guilt that always comes to us when we think about how we might have contributed to the downfall of our loved one. By not giving them anything, you are not giving their addiction any extra ground. You can hold your head high in the knowledge that you did not ENABLE the continuation of their addiction.

Your loved one will understand this expression of love in their recovery. I promise.

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  1. kunde says:

    Lots of beneficial reading here, thanks! I was searching on yahoo when I discovered your submit, I? going to add your feed to Google Reader, I look forward to a lot more from you.

    • Rachael says:

      Hi Kunde

      Thanks for visiting! I’m so glad you found the reading beneficial and look forward to seeing you back here. There will be plenty more support to come on the site. Take care. Rachael

  2. […] we choose not to enable another, to no longer allow another to violate our boundaries, to demand better for ourselves and […]

  3. Leah says:

    So is it enabling when the addict in my life ends up in jail and his belongings are left behind and we as parents go get them for him?

    • Rachael says:

      Hi Leah

      Thank you for visiting and asking your question.

      Is it enabling to collect an addicted child’s belongings? I do not believe so. This action does not make it easier for them to engage in their addiction nor it does not provide the means to do so. Collecting their items is simply shifting property, much of which often has no value to an addict.

      Enabling would be gestures such as offering to sell any of those items to provide money for an addict, or paying any overdue fees on the property they were left at.

      I hope this helps. This could well be a useful post topic, to help distinguish what sorts of action could or could not be enablement.

  4. Aandra says:

    All – I have a question: My sister, a long time addict, has finally got herself locked up and of course, is not admitting that she’s in jail because she’s an addict. She just got evicted from her apartment, and I had offered to get it moved out and placed in storage while she either does her time/ and or focuses on her recovery. Is this enabling? I guess I’m just being hopeful that at some point she’ll get it together ( I know I can’t make her) and I’d like her to have some clothing, etc for when that time comes. What do you think?

    • Rachael says:

      Hi Aandra

      First of all, I am sorry to hear of your sisters struggles. My thoughts are with her, and you, as you walk this path.

      Enabling is a difficult thing to know the boundaries of but whenever I have been in doubt I have come back to these questions:

      “Am I providing money or the means to do drugs, drink or gamble?”
      “Am I providing money to recover from the effects of addiction?”
      “Am I making it easier for an addict to engage in their addiction?”
      “Am I saving them from feeling the effects of their addiction?”
      “Am I making excuses that will keep them, or me, from acknowledging the reality of the addiction?”

      Personally, I don’t think retrieving your sisters items meets any of the above as long as you do not intend to pay for that storage? If her items are just going into boxes in your garage or similar then you are simply storing items, that to be honest, she may or may not even care about in the face of her addiction.

      Always hold onto hope. Recovery is always possible.

  5. […] problem is that it can be incredibly confusing as we try to work out what constitutes enabling, and how to avoid doing it. The following 10 points are ways that you can stop enabling the […]

  6. heather says:

    I am a former addict clean for seven years. Now my brother in law has returned from jail and is living with his mom. He is and has always been an addict and in and out of jail. My mother in law is very stuburn and will not listen to any of the advice my husband (former addict) give her. She is enabling him and making excuses for him. He is a very good manipulater. He recently sold all of his sons christmas gifts, stole from my mother, and sold all of his belongings. His mother is under the impression that since he is on parole they will take care of it if he “messes up”. He bought one of those drinks that clean your urine so he came up clean. My husband bought a home drug test and it came up dirty. We showed my mother in law the results and she still continues to make up excuses for him. How do we get through to her and get help in getting her to understand that she is only hurting him? How do we get her to understand that she is enabeling him and being manipulated? I forgot to mention that she is extremely gulible. If you tell her the sky is purple she will belive you. How can we help her get help? Will nar-anon teach her what enabling is and how to realize when he is manipulating or justifyinig? Can anyone reffer me to a website that touches on these issues that I could maybe print out for her to read?

    • Recovering You says:

      Hi Heather

      Thanks for your question.

      Unfortunately, it is very difficult to make someone see that they are being manipulated, or that they are enabling an addict. Especially a parent as they so desperately want to see their child in the highest like, often despite evidence to the contrary.

      A group like Nar-Anon can help though. Often these groups have separate support meetings for families, and while it may seem redundant initially to your mother-in-law, over time she will hear stories that mirror her own, and may start to connect the dots.

      With her eyes closed though, you have a tough job to make her see what is in front of her.

      I would suggest a constant but kind exposure to the facts. Keep giving her information about addiction, and the ways it manipulates and seeks enablement. Continue to drip feed her the facts, but be careful not to talk her son down or appear to be judging or criticising him. This will close a mothers ears quicker than anything.

  7. Lesley says:

    We found out in august my son has been using drugs. Hes lost jobs, stolen money, lied, etc.
    I educated myself on drug use/addiction & tried to educate my parents. They know there’s a problem & know he lies & he’s even stolen money from them. In December, I took him to a year long program called Teen Challenge. I really thought he wanted help this time. But he was about to lose his car, already lost another job & was broke. He lasted 35 days in rehab. He called & said he wanted to come home & I told him if he left rehab, he could not come here. But my parents ended up picking him up at the bus station & letting him live with them. My dad got him a job and when he’s not working, he’s at work with them. He’s 21 years old & being babysat. I feel as if they are enabling him. They think they are helping. I keep my distance & they don’t understand why. I have a 5 yr old to protect. And i dont want to send the wrong message. When something goes wrong over there, he can’t come here til he gets help. I think more drug use is inevitable but I don’t know what to do to try & help him.

    • Recovering You says:

      Hi Lesley

      Unfortunately it is my opinion that yes, your parents are enabling your son. By picking up the pieces for him, but making his decision to leave rehab easier, they have simply brushed over the consequences of where he had got to.

      If keeping your distance feels right, in order to avoid enablement yourself, please try not to feel guilty for this choice. You are doing what is required to protect your 5 year old, and yourself, and you clearly have a better understanding of addiction and how it plays it’s games than your parents do. Trust that in time, they will either learn the hard lessons you have, or will eventually understand why your choice was the best one to make at the time.

      I hope that something changes for your son soon and that have the support you need to walk this path ahead of him.

  8. […] for your wellbeing and the wellbeing of any dependents. You can add controls that not only prevent enablement, but also protect your personal assets as well as the non-material elements of your […]

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