Stop the Enablement Train with these 5 Tips

It’s only natural to want your friends and family members to be happy, successful, and financially stable. But sometimes, even our best intentions overstep the line of support and venture into the realm of enabling, a situation that ultimately benefits no one and one that frequently creeps into formerly healthy relationships when substance abuse is involved.

Enabling refers to the act of doing something for your loved one that he or she should be fully capable of handling themselves. Whether you’re paying their bills, lying to cover for their poor behavior, or providing free housing, you’re doing them a disservice – and potentially perpetuating their cycle of substance abuse. Enabling is a short-term solution to a long-term problem.

Ready to break the cycle and help your loved one rediscover a better life? Here are five tips to help you put an end to enabling:

1. Recognize the enabling behaviors.

Are you making excuses when they “skip” family obligations? Have you helped cover attorney fees? Have you ever “pretended not to see” unacceptable behavior or hidden behaviors from other members of the family? Enabling behaviors are those that were designed to protect the substance abuser, but in the end, they have exactly the opposite effect because they allow them to opt out of the naturally occurring negative consequences of their actions.

2. Set healthy boundaries.

Individuals struggling with substance abuse often know what healthy boundaries are, but because the drive to satisfy the addiction is overpowering, they become all too comfortable with ignoring these boundaries. Start by having a frank, open conversation about what’s acceptable and what’s unacceptable behavior, as well as the consequences of the latter.

3. Let them experience the consequences.

Years of enabling have inadvertently taught the substance abuser that poor behavior doesn’t always lead to negative consequences. If you want what’s best for your friend or family member, you’ll let their behavior lead to the negative consequences, whether that means losing their job for too many absences or losing the roof over their head for not paying rent.

4. Own your feelings.

Although enabling typically starts as an attempt to protect your loved one, realize that the act of enabling also helps you, which can complicate matters when you’re ready to make a change. It’s OK to admit that you’ve just been doing your best to regain some semblance of control in a frightening, out-of-control situation. Be forewarned though, taking measures to put an end to enabling can often increase your own anxiety, so make sure you have the resources to help yourself as well, which leads us to the final step…

5. Support yourself.

Many of you are probably aware of the 12-Step programs, spiritual counselors, and mental health therapists in the area who can help those who are addicted, and you know how to share this information with your friend or family member. But substance abuse impacts more than just the addicted individual. Give yourself the same chance to find support in fellowship; attend a nearby Al-Anon or Nar-Anon meeting to share stories and find out firsthand where the expression “strength in numbers” originated.

Remember, change is never easy, and making the shift from enablement to “tough love” can seem like a herculean task at times. But when the goal is to get your loved one back on the path to lasting sobriety, ending enablement is one of the most critical steps along that journey.

At Choice House, we encourage you to take that next step, reaching out to someone you respect for counsel or calling us for guidance, we’re here to help – 720-577-4422 or

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