Q & A: What Is an Enabler?

Michelle Rosenker

August 21, 2019

Q: What is an enabler?

A: “Enabler” is a term used to describe a person who makes another person’s substance abuse possible. Enablers sometimes do not realize that they are enabling someone else in their self-destructive and abusive behaviors, as they may feel as though they are protecting or showing love to that person. Other enablers are aware of what they are doing but struggle to stop their enabling behaviors.

Q: Am I an enabler?

A: Enablers make it easier for others to abuse drugs or alcohol simply by taking actions to support that abuse. If you have a loved one who is addicted to drugs or alcohol and are concerned you might be enabling the behavior, consider the following:

  • Do you provide money to your loved one despite knowing that it will be used for drugs or alcohol?
  • Do you continue to provide shelter for a loved one to prevent him or her from becoming homeless due to his or her substance abuse?
  • Do you bail a loved one out of jail, pay his or her bills, or use your own money to keep him or her out of trouble?
  • Do you make excuses for your loved one when he or she does not show up for an event, uphold a promise, or carry out basic responsibilities?
  • Do you deny that your loved one needs treatment and do nothing to help him or her get better?

These are some questions you should ask yourself if you are worried that you are an enabler. If you answer “yes” to even one of these, you may be an enabler.

Q: What are the dangers of enabling?

A: Enabling someone allows them to continue to engage in addictive behaviors, which can be dangerous for a number of reasons. Above all else, the risk of death remains constant as long as someone is using. Therefore, if you are enabling someone, you are making it easier for them to overdose, which can lead to death.

Continued substance abuse that is encouraged through enabling can also increase one’s risk for engaging in risky sexual behavior, accidentally harming others, participating in illegal activity, and struggling to find employment to support him or herself, among other things.

Q: What can I do to stop enabling a loved one?

A: If you are an enabler, it is likely that your behaviors are habitual and you need to find ways to change your behaviors. For some, simply reading more about addiction and enabling can help them identify their actions and stop them. Others benefit from getting help for themselves.

Addiction is a family disease, so it is common for people who are not addicted to drugs or alcohol to reach out for professional treatment. Individual therapy where cognitive behavioral therapies can be applied can be an excellent way to stop enabling someone in their substance abuse.

Enablers and Substance Abuse

Q: What can I do if my loved one is an enabler?

A: Having a loved one who is an enabler can be extremely frustrating, especially if you do not agree with the enabling. Similar to what you may do with an addicted friend or family member, you can sit down and talk to your loved one in a calm and non-threatening manner. Share how his or her enabling is making you feel and be ready to offer some suggestions for him or her, such as reaching out to a therapist or attending local support groups for families of addicted loved ones.

Keep in mind that the enabler is someone who is also going through a difficult time due to the presence of addiction in the family, so leading with compassion can make all the difference.

Q: What should I expect when I stop enabling my loved one?

A: If you make the conscious decision to stop enabling your loved one, you can expect a number of different things. For starters, you should prepare for your loved one to lash out at you in one way or another. He or she will do this simply because he or she is mad that it is harder to use now, however this is normal. You can also expect to see your loved one struggle more, which can be very hard to watch.

By no longer enabling your loved one, you are “raising the bottom,” meaning he or she has nothing left in between him/her and rock bottom. The hope is that when rock bottom is reached, your loved one will be willing to accept help. Stopping your enabling behaviors is going to be uncomfortable and the results will be hard to manage, though continuing to enable your loved one will only lead to further destruction.

Q: How do I cope with a loved who is enabling another loved one?

A: When a loved one is addicted to drugs or alcohol, the amount of challenges that a family faces are innumerable, never mind if there is an enabler in the family. If you are having trouble coping with enabling behaviors of others in your family, you might easily be experiencing large amounts of stress and frustration that you do not know what to do with. If this is the case, one of the best things that you can do for yourself is go to a local support group meeting, such as Al-Anon. Within these meetings, you can not only learn how to better cope with your addicted loved one, but you can also develop skills that help you manage the emotions you experience as a result of the enabler in your family.

JourneyPure Melbourne Can Help

If you have a loved one who is addicted to drugs or alcohol, know that you are not alone. At JourneyPure Melbourne, we can help you and your loved ones get the help that you need in order to overcome the challenges you face because of substance abuse.