Addiction Treatment Starts When Family and Friends Quit Enabling

What is Enabling?The road to recovery from substance abuse is often blocked by a loved one. In many cases, this is a simple matter of pride and denial. In others, family members and friends doing their best to keep a loved one alive may in fact be delaying a life-saving recovery.

At Family First Intervention, we’ve carefully considered the complex dynamics at play when a substance use disorder begins to pull a family apart. That’s why we believe that an intervention with the entire family needs to take place before the intervention with the addict.

This informative resource explains what it looks like when family members enable their loved one’s addictions and explores why this pattern happens in the first place. The path to a stable recovery opens up when all family members learn to hold themselves accountable.

How Do Family Members and Friends Enable Addiction?

Family First Intervention has served hundreds of families affected by a substance use disorder. During this time, we’ve observed very consistent patterns regarding enabling in the family.

enabling addicts and alcoholics types

There are three major categories of enabling behavior: providing comfort (passive), limiting consequences (active), and encouraging abuse. Understanding each scenario in greater detail will help families avoid falling into enabling traps.

1. Providing Comfort (Passive)

It isn’t uncommon for some family members to support a loved one’s addiction by accident. After all, most addicts are unable to carry on their habit without help and resources. It may seem completely harmless, like an uncle letting a nephew crash at his place to hide a hangover from the nephew’s parents. The truth is that these behaviors allow addicts to stay addicted:

  • Choosing not to confront loved ones over suspicious behavior
  • Tolerating increasingly inappropriate behavior
  • Not speaking up when cash or valuables go missing
  • Keeping secrets for the addict from other family members
  • Consoling the addict rather than holding them accountable

2. Limiting Consequences (Active)

Dealing with an addiction becomes even more problematic if family members are picking up the addict’s slack. There are consequences for substance abuse, but these consequences are never felt if family members are unable to set strict boundaries. A loved one is far less motivated to quit their drug-addicted lifestyle if they are protected from the serious consequences that come with it:

  • Family members pointing fingers at each other rather than urging an addict into treatment
  • Parents providing food or rent because they feel that they are to blame for their child’s addiction
  • Husband or wife taking over responsibilities like paying bills for an alcoholic spouse
  • Allowing addicted loved ones to borrow vehicles after they’ve lost access to their own

3. Encouraging Substance Abuse

It may be difficult to believe, there are instances of family members actively encouraging a loved one to continue abusing substances. This may be the result of naive immaturity. There could also be bigger emotional baggage that hasn’t been resolved within the family. These are examples of how a family member could work against addiction treatment:

  • Loved ones may drink or use with the substance abuser
  • Giving money to directly support the habit
  • Allowing drug activities to take place in their space
  • Driving the abuser to bars or to buy and use drugs
  • Helping loved one’s access illegal prescription drugs
  • Buying drugs or alcohol for the substance abuse

holding handsFamily Members Must Set Limits On Themselves

If you suspect that your loved one has an unhealthy relationship with drugs or alcohol, your next thought might be, “Am I an enabler?” Consider the following questions offered by Karen Halegi, Ph.D. in clinical psychology,

in a conversation with Psychology Today:

  • Do I ignore behavior in one loved one I would found unacceptable for another?
  • Do I resent that I have to help the family deal with a loved one’s addiction?
  • Do I struggle to honestly express how I feel about a family member’s drug or alcohol use?
  • Do I find myself lying to family members to cover for another loved one’s behavior?
  • Do I continue to help out a loved one struggling with alcohol even as they becoming increasingly unfriendly?
  • Do I find myself giving my loved one rides to strange places during the middle of the night?

Why Do Family Members and Friends Enable Addiction?

We’ve discussed at length exactly how family members enable one another. We’ve also begun to explore the motivations fueling those enabling behaviors in the heat of the moment. But why exactly do family members enable in the first place? Why would a loved one do anything that might keep their family member addicted for a second longer?

According to the American Counseling Association, these are all common examples of what leads a loved one to enable their addicted family member:

  • Families blame themselves for the addiction so they don’t want to “further punish” the addict by putting them into treatment
  • Family members try to solve the addiction by bribing the loved one with guilt, gifts, and favors
  • Families refuse to believe that their behavior is a contributor to the problem and refuse to adjust their behaviors
  • Family members don’t want to deal with the social consequences of getting real help for their loved one and put off treatment
  • Families don’t see the addiction as a serious problem, perhaps due to other substance use disorders

Furthermore, family members in denial typically adopt specific, problematic roles based on existing social dynamics. Learning more about these roles is another way for family members to set healthy boundaries and correct their own enabling behavior. Visit this resource for more information about these harmful family roles.

Putting An End To Enabling And Addiction?

Ego & Addiction: Why Families Enable Addicts and Derail Interventions

The entire family needs to be on the same page before they can successfully confront an addiction. Family First Intervention can help. We have the experience and know-how necessary to help a family move past their own hang-ups and become a team that is focused on recovery.

Contact us directly or get a copy of your free eBook today if you’d like to know more about the right way for family members to respond to a drug or alcohol problem.

Download your copy of the free eBook now!

*This post was updated Dec 08, 2019

Mike Loverde

As a Certified Intervention Professional (CIP), member of NAATP, NAADAC, and accredited by the Pennsylvania Certification Board, Mike Loverde knows first-hand what it’s like to live life with addiction. By overcoming it, he had a calling to work with others who struggle with drug and alcohol addictions—the people who use and the families who feel helpless watching them decay.

With thousands of interventions across the United States done and many more to come, Loverde continues to own the intervention space, since 2005, by working with medical doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists and others who need expert assistance for their patients who need intervention. To further his impact on behavioral health and maximize intervention effectiveness, Loverde is near completion of a Masters in Addiction Studies (MHS) accreditation, as well as a Licensed Independent Substance Abuse Counselor (LISAC), and is committed to attaining the designation of a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC).

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