Empowering someone to do things is often seen as a positive trait. However, there’s a stark difference between encouraging someone to succeed versus enabling an addiction. What are the signs of being an enabler? Understanding how to stop being an enabler in a relationship may just save your loved one’s life.

An issue often overlooked in the sphere of addiction is the influence of family and friends. People who are suffering from substance abuse need a community that supports their treatment and recovery, regardless of how the addict feels. This is one of the keys to long-term, successful substance abuse recovery.

Many family members often wrestle with their addicted loved ones about being firm or caving in to their requests. You will easily see this in reality TV shows such as “My 600 lb Life” where spouses, children, or even extended family enable overeating behaviors. The same logic applies to addiction–when loved ones give in to the addict’s cravings and requests, the condition of substance abuse worsens.

Sometimes, this passive behavior is misconstrued for being loving or merciful, but it is actually the opposite. Family members may not be aware that they are being enablers themselves. Thus, it is important to know the signs that point to being an enabler, and most especially how to stop enabling bad behavior.

How To Recognize The Signs Of Enabling

The first step on how to stop enabling someone with their addiction is to know the signs of being an enabler. First, let us define what an enabler is.

An addiction enabler is someone who directly or indirectly contributes to a progressing substance abuse problem. The term “directly” and “indirectly” is important in this definition because it helps us see the not-so-obvious signs of being an enabler.

Recognizing Enabling Behaviors And Their Hazards

It is easy to assume that addiction recovery lies solely on the individual without considering the huge role you can play in their success. What are the dangers that lie ahead when loved ones don’t understand how to stop being an enabler?

Why enabling is a bad idea

  • An addiction can quickly progress. The progression of substance use disorder (SUD) is unpredictable, but it definitely increases when people have free access to their addiction of choice. By being an enabler, you increase the likelihood that a mild problem will turn moderate, or a moderate problem turning severe.
  • Enabling is also a habit. Continuously caving in when your loved one makes requests for drugs or alcohol can also be a habit in itself until you end up justifying that it’s not harmful when it actually is.
  • Deadly health problems can arise. You may have taken the noble act of sending your loved one to rehab, but there’s still a danger when you are prone to enabling behaviors. Your recovering loved one may end up suffering a fatal overdose when you end up caving in to addiction cravings. Additionally, enabling behaviors left unchecked can also lead to severe drug-related health problems.
  • You can experience strained relationships. Other family members who do not approve of your addiction-encouraging habits may end up resenting you, not knowing how to deal with an enabler. In some instances, you and your addicted loved one can also experience a torrential relationship especially if both of you are looking for someone to blame with the problem.

The cons of enabling behaviors truly outweigh its benefits, if there is any. Now that we have understood the risks, below are some ways on how to not be an enabler.

Ways To Stop Enabling

There are different methods on how to stop enabling behaviors, but it all starts with an inner attitude and commitment to finally put an end to it.

Best Method To Stop Being An Enabler

One of the best ways to stop being an enabler is seeking outside intervention. Often, enabling habits are difficult to break without professional help–you may start implementing some strategies here and there, but when a single stone is left unturned, you and your loved one can end up being back to square one. Many families seek the help of addiction specialists who can provide the following services:

  • Inpatient rehab: This will give your loved one a great opportunity to restart their habits and to undergo formal treatment for addiction. Top-notch rehab centers offer medically supervised drug and alcohol detox, plus evidence-based treatments to ensure a safe and effective recovery.
  • Family counseling: During and after rehab, you can have the opportunity of sitting down with a counselor or therapist to discuss points of weakness in your loved one’s environment that triggers the addiction. This is also a chance for you to understand your loved one’s addiction triggers, how to modify the environment, and how you can firmly say “no” to cravings even when it seems difficult.
  • Mental health services: Family members can also go to mental health counseling related to the trauma of seeing a loved one go through addiction. Sometimes, enabling behaviors are caused by a “jaded” or “passive” attitude towards the sufferers. Seeking mental health services for yourself is also a great idea.

If you are serious about stopping enabling behaviors, the strategies mentioned above should be your first steps. After seeking professional help, the tips below are some ways to consistently keep enabling habits at bay.

Tips For Ceasing To Enable A Loved One

Keep addiction triggers away

Addiction triggers are any type of stimuli (sights, smells, sounds, tastes, or situations) that encourage the use of drugs or alcohol. During family counseling, you may be oriented to your loved one’s addiction triggers. By avoiding or minimizing these stimuli at home, you will decrease the chances of substance cravings.

Encourage healthy habits

Idleness is a common trigger for most addicts. You can encourage healthy habits such as exercise, eating nutritious food, or productive hobbies by joining them in these activities. If this is not possible, you can offer praise and words of motivation to help them continue in these endeavors.

Model desired behaviors

Subconsciously, our loved ones imitate what they see in us. Whether you’re a parent, spouse, or even a child, you can model desired behaviors by being consistent with it yourself. For example, if your loved one is recovering from alcoholism, you can model ideal behaviors by committing not to drink alcohol as well for their sake.

Keep on going

Relapse is almost expected for a recovering addict’s journey. Do not be discouraged if you experience slips and mishaps along the way in your loved one’s substance abuse treatment. One setback doesn’t mean the whole process is a failure–commit to a fresh start and keep going.

What Are You Enabling?

At the end of the day, the principle of being an enabler lies behind this last question–what are you enabling? By knowing the signs of being an addiction enabler, you can help put a stop to the downward spiral of a loved one’s substance abuse and instead provide the right kind of support for a better life.


  • Scarysymptoms.com – “My 600 Pound Life: The Enablers’ Story”.
  • Uexpress.com – “The Importance of Consistency”.
  • Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – “Loss of tolerance and overdose mortality after inpatient opiate detoxification: follow up study”.
  • Populytics.com – “10 Habits to Maintain Good Health”.
  • Health.usnews.com – “Why Do Alcoholics and Addicts Relapse So Often?”.

Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

Talk with one of our Treatment Specialists!

Call 24/7: 949-276-2886