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What Is an Enabler? Family Might Be the Main Culprits

A fine line exists between helping someone and hurting them. Being an enabler may actually hurt the addicted person because you are taking away their irresponsibility and making it your responsibility.

This revolving door of lending a helping hand while ignoring the consequences of their actions leads nowhere, and can actually encourage an addiction sufferer to continue their antics with no end in sight.

So ask yourself: are you friend or foe? Are you an inhibitor or an enabler?

What is an enabler?

Enabling generally refers to family members who continually do things for the addicted person that excuses their behavior. This unchecked support fuels addiction and gives it power. That support could be handing out money because their bills were not paid (even though they can afford it), ignoring unacceptable behavior no matter how detrimental it is, making excuses for unacceptable behavior, and providing a safety blanket every time this person comes in sloppy drunk.

In other words, an enabler is someone, usually a family member, friend, or close associate, who gives assistance that allow the addicted person to continue self-destructive behaviors, be that alcohol consumption, drug abuse, gambling.

The enabler usually has good intentions because they want to help the addicted person, but they unknowingly, and sometimes knowingly, do it to a detriment. Little do they know every time they “help” out their addicted family member or friend, they are in fact, encouraging and hurting this person. 

The act of giving, ignoring the problem, or assisting sends a message to the addicted person that they should continue their behavior. There is no accountability or reflecting on the consequences of their actions, which makes the relationship with friends and family worse.

Studies show that a substance abuser will likely quit their addiction issues and stay sober should they experience mind-etching negative consequences. These types of consequences usually feel like a head-on collision. Enabling only prevents the person from hitting that proverbial “rock bottom.” Hitting rock bottom is an automatic introspection that pushes the brain to solve problems and evaluate mental health.

What is an enabler? Behavior examples:

  • For the past several decades treating the loved one like an adult child and making excuses for their destructive behavior
  • Paying the addicted person’s bills instead of letting them pay their own, especially when they can afford it
  • Neglecting to mention how the love one’s addictive behavior is affecting the family
  • Helping the addicted person with support to obtain their substance of choice
  • Emotionally supporting them through their plight

What is an enabler? Real-world examples:

  • Bailing them out of jail on a drug possession charge
  • Paying their rent when they clearly have enough money to do so themselves
  • Providing clean urine for an upcoming drug test to prevent them going to prison
  • Lie to other family members about their whereabouts when they mysteriously disappear, especially during family gatherings
  • Never say a word and allow this person to come around the family and cause drama
  • Making excuses and covering up their thefts when things go missing
  • Denial; telling yourself the addicted family member don’t have a problem when they clearly do
  • Offer rides to get their fix or to their next heist
  • Doing the addicted person’s household chores because they are passed out drunk or running the streets trying to get high

Picking up the slack helps the addicted person never learns a lesson from the consequences of their addictive behaviors.

According to the American Psychological Association, enabling means a process that contributes to negative behaviors in another person. The second part of that definition states that the person enabling the behavior is usually close to the person; family, friend, or associate. In many cases, they feel like they cannot cannot prevent their support because “it’s the right thing to do.”

Based on that definition, the enabler might have good intentions, and might not know they are creating the conditions to allow an addiction to prosper. And when these behaviors spiral out of control, the supporting member feels like they cannot do anything else except cooperate with the addicted person’s requests. 

For example, in extreme cases, mothers will drive their addicted child to the drug spot and even give them the money for the drugs in fear that something dangerous will happen if they do it alone. This psyching out blinds the enabler from the truth, and encourages and cultivates their loved one’s addiction.

Enablers fail to understand that eliminating enabling forces the addicted family member to endure the hardship of getting a DUI, injured in a car accident, arrested, shot by a drug dealer, or even OD’ding might teach them a hard lesson. Extreme situations like this are traumatic and stick in an addict’s mind, and puts them in a better position to change. If nothing serious happens, how else can a person struggling with substance dependency break free from the cycle and see the consequences of their actions?

Enabling them by providing safety nets will only make things worse because they will never change. Change only happens when something changes, whether it is a hard change or a soft change. Although it is uncomfortable for both parties to change, it needs to happen before it’s gets too late.

Real-world example of an enabler: 

Jack Whittaker wins the $315 Powerball lottery. Every time his 17-year-old granddaughter asks for money, he gives it to her. He will do anything to make her happy even if that means feeding her addiction. Did he know about her problem? Whether he did or didn’t does not matter now. Two years after his win, she’s found dead wrapped in a plastic tarp near her boyfriend’s home. She OD’d.

He’s the grandpa who has compassion; but, did he become blinded by the cash and ignore the biggest signs? Did she feel hurt and want to feel free by getting high? He wanted his daughter to enjoy the finer things in life, but sometimes family members choose not to see the forest beyond the trees. The signs are there. Drug addicts normally tell on themselves. This lack of understanding leads to enabling. Giving money makes one feel good, but also enables the addicted person to chug full speed ahead.

No enablers at Rehab Facilities

You should have a better understanding of what is enabling behavior. It can become a vicious cycle returning to addiction without accountability. 

The next blog entry will discuss how to stop enabling

Most rehab facilities have doctors, nurses, counselors, and an entire team providing medical advice and confidential help. Trustworthy health information will help educate you on how not to enable.

Many facilities bring the family members in during treatment as accountability partners, and to train them how to property handle the addicted individual and set healthy boundaries

The person suffering addiction issues is held responsible.

Rehab staff does, however, enables the removal of drugs and alcohol from the system and assist in achieving a healthier, happier life.

Stop enabling.

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