How Does a Family Enable the Addict?

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Families really do have their heart in the right place when it comes to wanting to help a relative who is addicted to drugs or alcohol. They care, and they want to see their loved one be well. Unfortunately, what an addict’s family doesn’t appreciate is how powerful the hold can be on the person living under its influence.

life maze

The Cycle of Addiction

An addict may look and sound like someone who is making decisions in a rational manner, but his or her choices are being influenced by the addiction. Once it starts, a great deal of the person’s time and energy is taken up by either getting drunk or high, coming down from the experience of getting drunk or high, or thinking about how to get the resources to get drunk or high again.

When families try to get in between an addict and his or her drug of choice, they use strategies they think will help but only end up enabling their family member. What is enabling? This is behavior that shields an addict from having to live with the consequences of living with his or her addiction. It can take a number of forms, and many families don’t realize the things they are doing to try to help are only allowing the cycle of addiction to continue.

What an Addictive Family and Enabling an Addict Looks Like

Here are some forms that the enabling can take:

  • Using threats or ultimatums to try to get him or her to stop but not following through on them
  • Covering up for a loved one who is drinking or using drugs
  • Believing an addicted family member when he or she promises to get help “soon”
  • Finding or giving an addict a job after they have become unemployed because of their addiction
  • Posting bail or hiring an attorney for an addicted family member
  • Calling a family member to get them up in the morning
  • Believing that they are the cause of their family member’s addiction

A family cannot “will” an addict to get better. As long as the family is providing the resources necessary to keep the addiction going, there is no incentive for an addict to make any changes to his or her lifestyle. The addict is in control of the situation. If anything is going to change in this scenario, it is going to be up to the family to make a decision to change the situation by holding an intervention. This process is done with the best and most loving of intentions – to get the loved one into treatment. You can learn more about the process by checking out these intervention FAQs and Videos.

Contacting a professional interventionist for help is a positive step towards stopping addiction in its tracks. Your family can learn how to stop enabling an addicted family member and learn how to set boundaries around his or her behavior. The result will be a healthier family unit.  Check out this intervention FAQ resource to learn more.



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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