What is an Enabler? Addiction, Codependency & Interpersonal Relationships

Anyone can behave like an enabler and not even be aware of it. It's critical to ask yourself the tough questions as you read this. Are you or someone else in your family enabling self-destructive behaviours? Enabling is not beneficial to a person suffering from drug or alcohol addiction, and it should be addressed as soon as possible.

Compare Rehab UK | What is an Enabler? Addiction, Codependency & Interpersonal Relationships

What Does It Mean To Be An Enabler?

The term “enabler” refers to someone whose actions enable a loved one to maintain self-destructive behavioural patterns. Anyone can be an enabler, even if their personality doesn’t seem to match the mould.

It all boils down to their emotional bond with the individual. In many cases, the enabler is a parent, grandparent, or another relative. Their opinions are important.

Enabling is harmful to a person’s recovery. Often, an enabler tries to dismiss all of the evidence that is right in front of them to protect and hang on to their loved one. They assume that by denying the facts, everything will stay the same, but in reality, they are putting their loved ones in even more danger.

Addiction is a serious problem that requires immediate attention. Get Confidential Help Now. Call our 24h admissions line on 0800 999 1083.

Characteristics of An Enabler

Many well-intentioned friends and family members who enable addictions are completely unaware of the implications of their behaviour.

It’s very natural and noble to help individuals we care about, including protecting them from themselves. However, there is a thin line between helping your loved one and allowing the enabled person to feel comfortable with the negative actions of their addiction.

Your kindness and assistance may have the opposite effect of what you intended and end up encouraging a drug addict to keep using drugs.

The signs listed below can assist you in determining whether or not a pattern of enabling behaviour has evolved.

Ignoring or tolerating bad behaviour

Even if you disagree with a loved one’s actions, you may choose to overlook that for various reasons. If you think your loved one is looking for attention, you might think that ignoring the behaviour will make them stop. You might postpone discussing it because you’re terrified of admitting there’s an issue. It’s possible that your loved one is unaware of the problem, and you’re afraid of what your loved one may say or do if you speak up.

Assisting with financial matters

If your resources allow it, there’s usually no harm in occasionally assisting a loved one financially. On the other hand, giving them money regularly can encourage them to spend money impulsively or on something that could harm them.

Enabling a loved one financially might have particularly negative implications if they are struggling with addiction to alcohol or drugs.

As an example of this type of behaviour:

Your daughter has financial difficulties and never has enough money to pay the rent because she spends a lot of money on pot. Assisting her every month will not educate her on how to handle her financial choices or her addiction. Instead, she may become more reliant on you, and it’s more unlikely that she will seek addiction treatment.

Making excuses or covering for them

When you’re afraid of the consequences of a loved one’s addiction, it’s natural to want to help them by shielding them from it.

When you’re worried that other people will look at your adult child harshly or unfavourably, it’s tempting to make excuses for them to other family members or friends. However, this will not assist your loved ones in changing their harmful behaviour pattern.

Taking on more obligations than you should

If you routinely pick up a loved one’s slack, such as completing domestic tasks, caring for their children, or taking care of their daily duties that they leave undone, you may be enabling them.

There’s a distinction between assisting someone and enabling their poor behaviours. Depression isn’t a behaviour; thus, you can’t enable it. Someone suffering from depression may find it challenging to get out of bed each day. Temporary assistance can help them get through a difficult period and give them the confidence to seek help.

However, if your assistance makes it simpler for your loved one to maintain a destructive conduct without making any effort to change their behaviour or situation, you may be enabling them.

Wiping the slate clean

People who are struggling with addiction frequently say or do unpleasant or abusive things. They may insult you, dismiss you, destroy or steal your property, or physically hurt you. You might convince yourself that this conduct isn’t so horrible or that they wouldn’t do those things if it weren’t for their addiction.

However, the reason for the conduct is irrelevant. If the behaviour is harmful, it’s harmful. Minimising the problem shows your loved ones that they can continue to treat you in the same manner without fear of repercussions. By acting as if what they do has no impact on you (or them), your message is that they aren’t doing anything wrong.

Addiction is a serious problem that requires immediate attention. Get Confidential Help Now. Call our 24h admissions line on 0800 999 1083.

Ignoring the issue

It might be difficult to admit that a loved one requires help with a substance use disorder.

They may say that they have only tried drugs once or twice and do not use them on a regular basis. They may also query if you believe they have a problem, to which you respond that you are unconcerned, that they do not overdrink or use too many drugs, or that there is no problem.

You may believe them or agree with them without truly believing them. You can even pretend that everything is fine to other members of your family or friends while straining to accept this version of reality for yourself.

However, if you don’t acknowledge the problem, you’re encouraging it to continue, even if you sincerely want it to end. If you deny the problem, you and your loved one may face problems later on.

It isolates you both from other friends or family. It also makes it harder for your loved ones to ask for help, even if they know they need help to change.

Sacrificing or struggling to recognise your own needs

Missing out on things you desire or need for yourself because you’re too preoccupied with caring for a loved one can be an indication you’re enabling them:

  1. Do you have financial difficulties as a result of sending money to a loved one?
  2. Do you find it difficult to devote time to your work, self-care, or other relationships now that you’re spending more time at home because of your loved one’s problems?

On occasion, we all make sacrifices for the people we care about. This may not always imply that you are enabling someone, but it’s important to understand why you’re not getting your needs addressed.

While it’s critical to meet your own needs, especially when caring for a sick loved one, you might not mind missing out on some of your favourite hobbies for a few days or weeks. However, if you’re having trouble getting things done or are feeling worn down by your efforts to care for a loved one, it could be helpful to think about why you’re helping and how your help might be affecting your loved one. Is your self-sacrifice allowing them to maintain their bad habits?

Failure to follow through with repercussions

It’s critical to follow through on a consequence you’ve stated. When you don’t follow through, your loved one learns that if they keep doing the same thing, nothing will happen. This may increase the likelihood that they will continue to act in the same manner and take advantage of your kindness.

Failure to stick to your specified bounds

In any relationship, having healthy limits is crucial. Some boundaries you might set with a loved one who is struggling with addiction can include:

  1. “I don’t want to be around you if you’re yelling, so I’ll only listen when you’re speaking normally.”
  2. “I’m not sure I want to have sex with you if you’ve been drinking.”
  3. “I don’t want to hang around with you if you’ve been doing drugs, so don’t come over high.”

If you or a loved one breaks a boundary you’ve established and there are no repercussions, they may continue to do so.

You’re resentful of someone

When a habit of enabling pervades in a relationship, resentment, as well as feelings of anger and disappointment are common.

Your animosity could be aimed towards your significant other, the situation, both, or even yourself. You can be sad and irritated because you spent so much time attempting to help someone who doesn’t appear to value your efforts. Even if you don’t want to, you may feel forced to continue assisting them.

Resentment can be harmful to your emotional health, but it can also help you see that the situation is unhealthy and encourage you to try to make some changes.

Addiction is a serious problem that requires immediate attention. Get Confidential Help Now. Call our 24h admissions line on 0800 999 1083.

Enabling or Empowerment?

It’s not always easy to tell the difference between empowering and enabling someone and it’s possible that there isn’t much of a difference between the two.

Most people who help their loved ones don’t mean to harm them. Enabling, in fact, usually begins with a wish to assist. Enabling behaviours might often appear to be helpful and you may unwittingly enable someone while attempting to help with the greatest of intentions.

However, empowering someone does not imply that they are not responsible for solving their problems. Instead, when you empower someone, you assist them to achieve or change on their own by giving them tools.

You can help them access the resources they need or teach them skills to overcome their problems, including giving them access to trustworthy health information related to their addiction. This way, you empower them to make their own decisions and solve their challenges.

How Do I Stop Being An Enabler?

Enablers may be unaware that they are prolonging the addiction. Maintaining a false sense of normalcy creates barriers for addicts, preventing them from experiencing the full repercussions of their addiction. Knowing that this is a necessary step in preventing enabling is the first step toward resolving the issue.

To stop being an enabler, you should follow this advice:

  1. Bring attention to the issue.
  2. Encourage them to get help.
  3. Set your boundaries and uphold them.
  4. Remember, it’s OK to say no.
  5. Try therapy for yourself.
  6. Avoid using substances around them.

Addiction Treatment Options

It does require a certain amount of bravery. You’re basically going to contradict everything you’ve done so far, confronting the individual and exposing their true colours.

Right now, their minds are focused exclusively on one issue, and they’re convinced that you’ll be able to help them in some manner. Giving them money or ignoring their bad behaviour are two sides of the same coin, and both are likely to exacerbate the issue and reduce the chances of their mental health improving.

The best way for everyone to be healthy and happy is to treat the addicted person and assist their family in dealing with the problem constructively.

Inpatient detox, outpatient programmes and partial hospitalisations are all treatment options available to address a substance abuse problem. Prior to rehabilitation, family and friends can learn about substance use disorders and how to support their loved ones.

Support groups can also help them deal with an addiction problem and some of them can also provide medical advice.

Addiction professionals will recognise enabling behaviours, but will also recognise that support is required. They can offer a personalised treatment plan that is tailored to the specific needs and goals of your loved one, improving the lives of all involved.

Addiction is a serious problem that requires immediate attention. Call us on 0800 999 1083 for confidential help and to discuss treatment options.

Last Edited: September 14th, 2022
Clinically Reviewed: April 10, 2022
Compare Rehab UK | What is an Enabler? Addiction, Codependency & Interpersonal Relationships
Clinical Reviewer


BACP accredited psychotherapist with 16 years experience working in mental health specialising in psychodynamic person-centred therapies treating those with a range of mental health disorders including anxiety, depression, OCD and Addiction.