How Do I Know if I Am Enabling My Loved One?

How Do I Know if I Am Enabling My Loved One?

Being the parent, sibling, spouse or other loved one of an individual struggling with addiction can be incredibly difficult. Addiction is often referred to as a family disease because it tends to affect all members of the substance user’s family in one way or another.

A common yet unfortunate way that many loved ones respond to an individual’s addiction is by enabling their loved ones. Enabling can often be disguised as supporting or protecting a loved one struggling with substance use. There are many different ways that enabling can surface. In general, enabling behaviors are anything that reinforces substance use. It is important to understand what enabling behaviors are and specific examples of what they can look like in daily life.

By becoming familiar with enabling, you can better advocate for your loved one’s recovery without unintentionally reinforcing or validating their loved one’s continued use or abuse of alcohol or other drugs.

What does it mean to enable my loved one’s substance use?

Enabling is a pattern of behavior that supports or reinforces a loved one’s substance use. Contrary to popular belief, enabling is not always obvious. It may be as subtle as lying to cover for them and their illness. Similarly, enabling behaviors are not always intended to support a loved one’s substance use but rather to protect or rescue a loved one from facing the negative consequences that their substance use has caused.

Some common enabling behaviors include:

#1. Financially supporting a loved one

While supporting a loved one financially is not always enabling, financially supporting a loved one who is struggling with substance use is enabling, regardless of what the money is being used for. Addiction is a complex condition that can lead to manipulative behavior, such as lying with the intent to obtain money to purchase alcohol or other drugs. Rather than supporting your loved one financially, help them apply to local job opportunities or get them connected with financial support resources.

#2. Downplaying the severity of a loved one’s substance use problem 

If you notice that your loved one’s substance use is affecting their life, relationships or other functioning, it is your responsibility to bring it to their attention. Minimizing or otherwise not bringing awareness to the extent of their problematic substance use can lead to the development or acceleration of their addiction.

#3. Providing ineffective emotional support

While certain kinds of emotional support are always needed by a loved one with substance use challenges, not all support is helpful. Make sure that the support you are giving your loved one is focused on getting them help for their issues.

#4. Doing nothing at all

Many neglect to view this behavior as enabling, however, by doing nothing, the individual struggling interprets that there is nothing wrong with their behavior.

How do I avoid enabling my loved one with addiction?

If you have partaken in any of the enabling behaviors mentioned above, do not beat yourself up. Many people do not recognize their own enabling behaviors until they realize that their loved one is making limited progress in their recovery. You must be prepared that once you stop enabling, your loved ones will struggle even more than they did before. However, they must come to terms with the consequences of their substance use. Anyone will hope that they do so sooner than later.

Several ways that you can stop enabling your loved one, and support their sobriety and recovery, include:

1. Set boundaries

Setting boundaries is important in all areas of life, but especially to avoid enabling behaviors. You may have to set several boundaries with your loved one struggling with substance use to protect both yourself and them. Examples of boundaries may include:

  • No longer financially supporting your loved one
  • Allowing your loved one to be around the family only when they are sober
  • Staying in contact with your loved one under the circumstance that they continue to receive substance use treatment and therapy

2. Utilize a family addiction treatment program

Many treatment facilities offer a family program, which allows the family of a loved one receiving treatment to be engaged in their treatment process. Every family program is different. Most family programs offer a direct line of communication between a patient’s primary therapist and family members.

Family programs also offer additional resources for family members, such as group therapy and behavioral therapy interventions, to help reduce enabling behaviors. Receiving counseling from a mental health professional can do wonders in supporting your loved one’s recovery and limiting enabling behaviors as well. One of the most notable takeaways from family programs is that family members can learn how to prioritize and engage in self-care practices, which can help prevent substance use and relapse in family members.

Casa Palmera is an addiction rehab and mental health treatment facility that is no stranger to the long-lasting effects of addiction and enabling behaviors. We offer a family program to help family members stay accountable for their own actions while their loved one receives substance use treatment. We have various other treatment resources available for those struggling with substance use and their families. To learn more, call (855) 508-0473.


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.