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Addiction and Codependency: Top 10 Reasons to Stop Enabling the Addict You Love (Part I)

In spite of all the available education, the warnings, the ads, and the accessibility of treatment, addiction is still rampant worldwide and continues to ruin far too many people’s lives. Addiction can take many forms, from mind-altering substances to mood-altering behaviors, and my experience in this field tells me that almost everyone on the planet today is either affected by addiction – their own or someone else’s – or they know someone who is.

Addressing Behaviors

Over the years of helping those affected by addiction, it’s become obvious that in order for sustainable change to happen, the behaviors of the loved ones must be addressed. When family and friends enable the addict, the addiction is almost guaranteed to continue. Loved ones must make the first moves and modify what they’re doing in these very difficult situations if the addict has any hope of a lasting recovery. And, let’s face it, it’s unlikely that the addict is going to approach their family and friends and say, “Please let there be some consequences for my behavior!”

Instead, loved ones must learn to say to the addict in their lives, “We love you enough to no longer support you in active addiction. When you’re really ready to be in active recovery of some kind, let us know and we will do whatever we can to help you make that happen.”

I know this is a scary prospect for most loved ones – for a variety of reasons, which we will explore here. I have been an Addictions Therapist for over 25 years, a recovering drug addict with close to 30 years in active recovery, and a person affected by other people’s addictions for my entire lifetime – and this is what I know to be true:

Reasons to Stop Enabling

To outline why we need to stop enabling addicts and begin to truly help them, here is my Top 10 list of reasons – a là David Letterman.

Drum roll please!

#10 Enabling keeps the addiction going.

An enabling behavior is one that makes it just too easy for your addict to continue to stay in active addiction. This can include actions such as giving money with no accountability, or driving the addict to the liquor store to pick up more booze. If you’re wondering why the addict you love isn’t becoming or staying clean and sober, it’s always a good idea to take a look at what you might be doing and ask yourself whether it is helping or enabling.

There is a wonderful saying to consider as you do this inner reflection: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.”

Simple, profound – and true.

#9 Enabled addicts lose faith in their own resilience.

When we enable addicts, we generally try to take over their lives and do all kinds of things for them that they are actually quite capable of doing for themselves. We give them money that they haven’t earned, we buy and cook their food, we do their laundry, we pay their rent – or let them live with us, rent-free, and we drive them around when they’ve lost their licenses to DUI charges.

I understand the fear in loved ones that is at the root of these types of behaviors – the fear of what may happen to them if we don’t do those things. But until we acknowledge that what we’re doing isn’t helpful, we will continue to work way harder than the addicts do.

When we do these things for the addict, it’s like saying we have lost faith in them. As a result, they count on us to continue to behave this way and they begin to lose faith in themselves.

If you want this to change, ask yourself these questions:

  • What message am I actually giving to the addict I love when I’m enabling them?
  • Why should they have any sense of their own abilities or resiliency, if I keep doing everything for them?
  • If I don’t believe in them, how will they start believing in themselves?
  • If I’m going to work harder than they are, do I really think they are going to ask me to stop doing that?
  • How can I foster in them more of a sense of independence and resiliency, so that they can live healthier, more productive lives?


#8 As a loved one, you’re really meeting your OWN needs.

This is a difficult one for most loved ones to admit, but the fact is that if you are enabling an addict, you are only meeting your own needs. You are not doing anything that benefits the addict in any way. Yes, addicts in active addiction generally do need assistance to stop – but no addict needs to be enabled.

Think about this: How will YOU feel if you start saying “no” to your addict? How will YOU feel if you tell them they need to be in active recovery in order to live in your home? How will YOU feel if you set a boundary stipulating that they either have to be at work or in school – no more using all night and then sleeping all day?

What will it be like for you to set – and maintain – these kinds of very important boundaries? That thought likely feels scary for you, just as it would for the addict you love. But, trust me, if you continue to do what you’ve always done because of that fear, your life and your addict’s life will not improve.

#7 Enabling and Self-Respect cannot co-exist.

The loved ones of addicts I work with often say to me, “I just don’t know what to do!” My response is, “Yes, you do, you just don’t want to have to do it – which is understandable.”

I know it’s scary to make changes, but unless we’re willing to do just that, our vitally important self-respect will take a hit. When we do things that we know we shouldn’t be doing – especially when they could hurt ourselves or those we love – that’s a loud and clear signal that we don’t respect ourselves.

Self-respect is earned by doing the next right thing and the next right thing after that, one step at a time. When we stray from doing what we know is the correct and healthy next step, we stop trusting ourselves and lose some of our self-respect.

If you model your self-respect to the addict you love by behaving in much healthier ways, it’s likely that they will want a piece of that for themselves as well.

#6 Addicts do not respect enablers.

On some level, addicts know when their loved ones are enabling them and, deep inside, they wish you would stop doing that and instead hold them accountable for their actions. They are not likely to tell you that because if you stop doing what they “want” you to do, that would feel scary for them.

But please understand that when you enable an addict, they are aware that you actually need to be behaving differently toward them – and they want you to do just that.

We now understand that children feel more loved and secure when there is healthy, loving structure in the home. The same holds true for addicts in active addiction, whether they are your children, siblings, partners or friends. When you don’t hold them accountable and present solid, healthy boundaries and consequences, they feel like you don’t care enough about them to do that. They feel like you’ve given up on them, and that’s often when they start to give up on themselves. Sometimes they even give up on you, as their loved ones – and that is often when even more abusive behaviors begin to happen.


Image Courtesy of iStock

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