How to Know If You’re Enabling an Addict

Addiction is a disease that needs fuel to keep burning through a person’s life. This fuel can come in the form of co-occurring disorders, stress, pain, and in many cases, well-meaning enablers. Enabling is a complicated issue, but the simple definition is allowing an addict to continue on with their destructive lifestyle by sheltering them from the consequences of their behavior.

The Difference Between Helping and Enabling

A lot of times those who love an addict end up enabling their behavior because they’re trying to help. The line between helping and enabling can seem a little blurry, but there’s one easy way to tell the difference. Helping is doing something for someone that they are not capable of doing themselves. Enabling is doing something for someone that they are capable of doing themselves, or should be capable of doing. Often times addiction will render an addict incapable of properly caring for themselves, but if you do it for them, you’re enabling them to continue in their addiction.

Enabling Behaviors

If you’ve ever done one or more of the following, chances are you’re enabling an addict:

  • Paid their bills, or loaned them money.
  • Called in sick to work for them when they were too hungover to go in.
  • Lied to others or made excuses to cover for the addict.
  • Bailed them out of jail or paid their legal fees.
  • Avoided conversations about their using to avoid conflict.
  • Blamed yourself, or allowed the addict to blame you for their using or drinking.
  • Drank or used with the addict to try and get closer to them or strengthen the relationship.
  • Given them multiple “one last” chances.
  • Given ultimatums for if they don’t stop, but then not followed through with them.

Prioritizing Needs

It’s absolutely important to pay attention to the needs of someone recovering from addiction, but many go too far overboard here. You can’t neglect your own life just to pay attention to another, even if you’re working to help someone close to you who is struggling. If you find yourself paying bills that aren’t yours, missing work or family time or otherwise stretching far too thin while trying to help someone with their addiction, it could be a sign that you’re enabling them.


Addiction is a serious issue, but many enablers give in to their urge to downplay the situation and pretend nothing (or less) is wrong. In the worst cases, this may lead to enablers talking a friend or family out of professional assistance, which can often be the difference between life and death for some addicts.

Accepting Abuse

It’s common for someone suffering from addiction to abuse friends and family members, whether physically, mentally or emotionally. Enablers often accept this abuse, figuring that the alternative is worse and they should just deal with it. In reality, this just helps support a negative lifestyle and does little to help the affected person shake their demons.

Covering Up

It’s a completely natural feeling to want to make a tough situation easier for someone close to you, but enablers do this to a dangerous degree. They make excuses for behavior or take blame when it isn’t theirs, and will often take on huge levels of responsibility that really just make it easier for the person struggling with addiction to backslide. Helping out in a time of need is one thing, but constantly acting as a crutch is another entirely.

How to Stop

Once these patterns of enabling have been instilled in a family or other relationship, it can be very hard to stop. Remember that your loved ones can’t heal from their addiction until you allow them to feel the consequences of their actions. If they’ve spent all their money on drugs or alcohol and can’t pay their rent, you can’t pay it for them, or they’re sure to have the same problem next month. Step 2 of your plan will be to get help for the addict. They will be more willing to accept this help if they’ve felt the full weight of their addiction through a series of natural consequences. Getting help for yourself is often a key factor as well, as you learn how to support your loved one in a healthy way.