The Invisible Line

The Invisible Line Between Addiction and EnablingAs an Addiction Counsellor, I am often faced with the challenge of helping families find the invisible line between being supportive to addiction and enabling. The difference can be vast not only in how they affect the addicts’ chances of recovery, but also the family’s own well-being and sanity. What is enabling? Why is it dangerous? How do I know when I’m doing it? How do I stop?

Let’s explore this together…

The fact is, well-meaning gestures intended to help the addict could actually be allowing them to continue on the path of self-destruction. The ‘enabler’ often finds themselves taking responsibility for consequences of the addicts behaviour, which creates a dangerous psychological message that may sound something like this; “It’s ok to behave in this way because someone will always be there to pick up the pieces’”. Here is an example: An addict uses money that was allocated for petrol to buy drugs/alcohol instead. She/he is now late for work with no petrol to get there. This is not the first time and they run the risk of losing their job.

The Invisible Line Between Addiction and Enabling

You give them money and act as an alibi for the lie they tell at work, with the hope that someday they will see the error of their ways and change. In fact, all that has happened is that the message (someone will always rescue me) is reinforced, and unknowingly you have given them permission to continue. Alternatively, allowing the addict to face the consequences of their irresponsible behaviour, even if it means losing their job will challenge the negative message. This by no means guarantee’s that anything will change either; however it does not enable the behaviour and may promote responsibility and change. Many refer to this as detaching with love.This is by no means an easy thing to do and most people need support and guidance.

As difficult as it may be it is of utmost importance not only to encourage recovery and change but also preserve your own sanity within the storm of addiction that destroys so many families. Many family members of addicts find themselves on an emotional rollercoaster and often need psychological assistance themselves.
There are many different ways of enabling. Some could be as simple as keeping a secret for an addict or even lying and making excuses for their behaviour. Paying bills and fines intended for the addict is also an example of enabling.

Here are 8 Tips to Stop Enabling:

Stop doing anything that allows the addict to continue their destructive lifestyle.
Don’t make excuses for the addict’s behaviour to anyone.
Don’t rescue by bailing them out or by paying bills and fines.
Set and clearly communicate your personal boundaries- Stick to them!
Do not beg plead or even argue with the addict.
Do not give or loan the addict money.
Do not take responsibility for the addict’s duties.
Do not do anything that he/she could do for themselves if they were not using drugs or drinking.

This loving detachment is not purely for the sake of promoting change in the addict, but also largely to protect oneself from the emotional and psychological turmoil that can come from loving an addict. It is therefore the most loving and productive thing you can do for the addict and for yourself.
Millions of family members and loved ones of addicts have found peace and that is not dictated by the behaviour of the addict but by attending support group fellowships such as Al-Anon and Nar-Anon.


Written by: Ryan Erispe