How to Stop Enabling a Loved One’s Addiction

enabling a loved one's addiction

If your loved one is struggling with addiction, you may be enabling their behavior. It’s important to know the difference between enabling and helping. Although you may feel like you’re helping, you may actually be enabling, which will only fuel your loved one’s addiction further. Instead, it’s helpful to focus on changing your own behavior instead of theirs, since you cannot force a loved one to stop drinking or using drugs.

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How to know when you’re enabling addiction

It’s not always easy to recognize when you’re enabling a loved one’s addiction because you might feel like you’re helping. However, the definition of an enabler is, “someone whose behavior allows a loved one to continue self-destructive patterns of behavior.”1 In terms of addiction, enabling behavior is doing things for someone with a substance use disorder that they normally could or would do for themselves if they were sober.

Some signs you might be enabling a loved one’s addiction include:

  • Taking over childcare duties for an addicted loved one.
  • Covering up signs of a person’s addiction so others don’t find out, such as spot-cleaning clothes that have been soiled with blood or bodily fluids.
  • Calling in sick for a loved one who is hungover.
  • Making excuses for an addicted loved one’s behavior.
  • Taking over household chores and responsibilities for an addicted loved one.
  • Lending an addicted loved one money.

The main difference between enabling and helping someone with an addiction is that enabling shields the person from the consequences of their substance abuse, while helping doesn’t. If the addicted person is forced to face the consequences of their addiction, they may be more likely to change their behavior and get sober. Otherwise, if you continue enabling them, they may not have any motivation to change. In Al-Anon, this is called “putting pillows under them,” which is essentially softening the blow of their mistakes.

Tips to stop enabling a loved one

One you realize you’re enabling a loved one’s addiction, the next step is changing your behavior. You may have initially thought you were helping them, but now that you know better, you can change the way you respond to their drinking or drug abuse. This can be a difficult process so it’s best to work with a counselor or attend Al-Anon meetings while you make this transition.

Here are a few specific ways you can stop enabling:

Sometimes, people struggling with addiction will go to extreme lengths just to get their substance of choice. For example, they might steal drugs or money, buy illegal drugs, become violent, or drive while under the influence. If your loved one breaks the law and is arrested due to a drug or alcohol-related crime, your first instinct might be to jump in and save them from this trouble, but that’s not the best idea.

Instead, interfering with this process could shield your loved one from necessary consequences that may encourage them to get help. No one wants to go to jail or have a felony on their record. Allowing your loved one to feel the consequences of their actions may help them make better choices.

Establish limits and boundaries with the entire family.

Although you can’t control your loved one’s drinking or drug use, you can determine what behaviors you will or won’t accept in your own life. Set clear boundaries and stick to them. For example, you may decide to tell your loved one that you won’t tolerate drug use in your home. And if they decide to use drugs at home anyway, they won’t be permitted to stay there anymore. Getting all of your family members onboard with these boundaries is wise, that way you can reduce instances of pressure and manipulation.

Stop making excuses for them.

Remember that it’s not your job to clean up after your loved one’s behavior. For example, if a loved one gets drunk and doesn’t make it into work the next day, you should not be calling in sick for them. Or, if an addicted loved one makes a fool of themselves in a public situation, you should not simply whisk them away to shield them from embarrassment. Instead, allowing the situation to play out might be enough to make them realize they need to make a change.

Take a look at your finances.

Addiction is a very expensive habit that could end up ruining your family’s financial security. If you and your addicted loved one share a joint bank account, it’s a good idea to set up an individual account to limit your loved one’s access to money for drugs or alcohol. Alternatively, you may decide to establish a different living situation or tell your loved one you will no longer be supplying them with any money. Eventually, they may determine that their addiction is too expensive to maintain or they will be forced to make a change when they can no longer get their substance of choice.

Continue recommending treatment.

Addiction is a chronic brain disease that typically requires professional treatment for full recovery. Although your loved one might decide to get sober on their own, their sobriety is unlikely to last unless they get treatment and ongoing professional support. It might feel hopeless at times, but if you believe your loved one needs professional help to manage their addiction, keep recommending it (even when you feel like a broken record). Your loved one may be resistant to getting help at first, but with time, they may eventually come to see that it’s their best chance at a new life. Remain supportive and firm in your recommendation to seek professional care and recognize that the process of change is often slow and won’t happen overnight. Recommending detox Austin TX is a great place to start.

Get support for yourself.

As we previously mentioned, the process of learning how to stop enabling can be difficult. At times, you may not be sure whether you’re doing the right things and you might feel pressured to start enabling again. As a result, it’s best to seek outside support from a counselor who can help you assess your relationship with an addicted loved one and establish more healthy behaviors that will benefit both you and your family in the long run. 

You might also consider joining Al-Anon, which is a mutual support program for people whose lives have been affected by someone else’s drinking or drug use. By attending these meetings you can learn from the experience of others who have faced similar experiences and find effective ways to cope with problems. You may also find that you feel less alone in the process and are empowered by the mutual support as you make changes in your behavior towards your addicted loved one.

What happens when you stop being an enabler?

Often, when you stop enabling an addicted loved one, that person is faced with the fear of the consequences they may face if they continue doing what they’re doing. In some instances, that fear is enough to motivate them to seek help. Unfortunately, some people may suffer through many difficult consequences and circumstances before they decide it’s time to get help. However, the most important thing you can do is continue loving them, be there to support them when they’re ready to get sober, and remain firm with your boundaries. No one can choose to get sober for them. They will have to decide for themselves when they are ready.

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Drug detox Austin TX may be the first step to recovery

If your loved one is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, the caring professionals at Briarwood Detox Center are here to support them and your family. We provide medically-assisted drug and alcohol detox programs with individualized treatment plans to address each person’s unique treatment needs. Please contact us online or call (512) 262-4426 to get started when you’re ready.


  1. https://www.healthline.com/health/enabler 
  2. https://al-anon.org 

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