Substance abuse disorders take a toll on the entire family. That’s why the entire family is typically instrumental for the addict entering recovery. Sometimes, without even knowing it, family members and friends can actually make addictive behaviors worse. Find out if you are enabling addiction for your friend or loved one. Then, learn what you can do to help them today.

Are You Enabling Addiction?

Enablers are close family members or friends of addicts that “remove the natural consequences” of the addict’s behavior. The downside of enabling is that by preventing the addict from experiencing the negative consequences of his behavior, you limit his or her ability to change. In the words of author J.K. Rowling, “…rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.” It may seem harsh but it’s terribly true. If you’re addicted relative or friend does not face consequences he or she may never see the need to rise again.

Here are a few ways to tell if you are enabling addiction.

An alcoholic goes on a heavy binge. He comes home and crashes the car into the mailbox. Inside, he stumbles and falls over several times breaking decor and knocking pictures off the walls. You clean up the damage and the next day he hardly knows it even happened. There is no discussion about the event after it happens.

A prescription pill addict finds it difficult to awaken each morning to get her kids to school on time. She is often groggy and disoriented, frequently causing the kids to run late. You, her husband, change your schedule around so that you take on the responsibility of seeing the kids off to school every day so that mom can sleep in.

A parent of a chronic marijuana user begs the child’s boss not to lay him off after failing a random drug test. The boss gives in because he has known your family for years.

If any of the above scenarios resonate with you, then you are probably enabling a loved one’s addiction. Enabling can come off as helpful at first, but, eventually, the enabler builds up resentment towards the addict as the constantly act out in desperation to save situations and repair damage. In the long haul, these enabling behaviors only end up hurting everyone.

How to Stop Enabling Addiction

You may feel guilty about not cleaning up after the addict but this is what you must do. Stop giving your loved one money. Don’t lie to an employer for them. Don’t lie to a spouse about where they were or what they were doing. Stop bailing them out of jail.

There are some positives to letting your loved one suffer the consequences of their behavior. Losing a stream of income may limit their ability to buy drugs or engage in addictive behaviors. Losing a job may provide an incentive for them to get sober. Spending the night in jail just might protect them from the dangers that lurk on the streets.

Sometimes “helping” a friend or loved one can end up hurting them down the line. Maybe your family member needs a wakeup call and no longer enabling them could make a difference in them recognizing the negative consequences of their behaviors.


  1. Lancer, D. Are you an enabler? Psych Central.
  2. What to do if your adult friend or loved one has a problem with drugs. National Institute on Drug Abuse.