Families enable for the same reason their loved ones gets drunk or high: because it is a comfortable alternative to confronting the situation. Most families we consult are shocked when they finally realize that enabling to a family is an addiction very similar to the addiction of an addict or alcoholic.  Enabling is a learned behavior taught to families over time by their loved ones to keep their addictions comfortable.

The Four Building Blocks of an Enabling Family System

As we discuss in other sections of this website, families are taught to keep their loved ones from wanting help or hitting bottom while society (doctors, psychiatrists, therapists, and so forth) back up these ridiculous notions by telling families they have to wait. The only one who gets ahead with this concept is the addict or alcoholic.  Below are four examples of enabling behaviors taught to families by their loved ones to help keep the addiction comfortable for the abuser at the expense of the family:

  • Guilt – Addicts and alcoholics teach families that it is their fault and that everything bad that happens is because of some other person, place, or thing. Because families feel guilty, they become enablers.
  • Fear – Families are taught that if they try to intervene, set rules and boundaries, or make their loved ones go to rehab, they will hate the family forever, never talk to them again, commit suicide, or die if they stop the addictive behavior.
  • Hope – Your love ones teaches you that they will stop on their own, that they have a plan.  Families believe them despite all the failed attempts. The family then starts to believe if the love one is arrested just once, lands the right job, or meets that special someone, this will all go away. Your loved one teaches you to wait and do nothing.
  • Victim – All addicts and alcoholics become professional victims. They constantly think to themselves and teach others that if you had their terrible life, you too would drink or take drugs. They say: “You don’t know what it’s like to be me,” and “If you were married to him (or her), you’d drink too.”

At Family First Intervention, we teach families how to change enabling behaviors to make their loved ones becomes accountable. Families think that if their loved ones are left to their own devices, they will die as a result of their addiction. An enabled addict or alcoholic is far more likely to get worse, but conversely far more likely to get better if the enabling stops and the situation becomes uncomfortable.

Enabling prevents an addict or alcoholic from wanting help or hitting bottom. The problem is that families are told they have to wait for bottom, but their enabling behaviors prevent that from happening. Nobody pulls up to an AA meeting in a limo. Until the addict or alcoholic becomes uncomfortable in the addiction and accountable for his or her own actions, not yours, getting well isn’t going to happen. Your loved one can’t get drunk or high without your help.