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The Enabler in Drug Addiction and Alcoholism

Many times the issue of alcoholism or drug addiction is not just one person’s burden. It’s a cross carried by two people—the abuser and the enabler. The enabler may be a life-partner, relative, spouse or friend. Whoever it is, they bind together as partners in a co-dependent relationship. What’s so unhealthy about it is that the enabler encourages or overlooks the unhealthy behavior of the abuser. They also prolong the problem of the addict because addiction is a progressive disease. If unchecked, it just gets worse. Signs of an enabler are interesting because some may not be fully aware that they are enablers or how they got into that role.

There are many reasons why an individual assumes the enabler’s role. The person may be acting out of a peculiar sense of loyalty or love. Despite being involved in a relationship driven by an abuser, the enabler may not want to rock the boat, feeling too weak, vulnerable or inadequate to intervene. This can be especially harmful if the abuser is prone to violent behavior. Financial dependence of the enabler can also play a big factor as can fear of abandonment. A misguided reluctance to maintain a “family secret” and not get help can also contribute to the problem. The two biggest reasons the enabler keeps protecting/saving the addict is fear (panic, trepidation, terror, afraid of the unknown, apprehension, etc.) and denial (refusing to believe, refuting anything that hints at a problem or making excuses for it, etc.).

In addition to protecting or covering up the abuser, the following behaviors are commonly seen in the enabler’s actions:

  • Controlling the abuser by treating him/her like a child
  • Blaming any relationship issues on the abuser
  • Expecting that the substance abuse problem will resolve itself on its own
  • Providing money to buy drugs or alcohol and/or going out to purchase them
  • Allowing the abuser to use in the home
  • Avoiding conflict and exposure at all cost
  • Denying or minimizing the fact that a problem even exists.

The fact is that anytime an individual assists or allows another person to continue in a pattern of substance abuse s/he is an enabler. It doesn’t matter if the actions are overt or covert, active or passive. (Remember silence is a way of condoning the actions of others.) The enabler is actually the rescuer for the addicted person. Denying the existence of the addiction is a problem that will continue to make the problem worse.

To break this co-dependent cycle the enabler must calmly approach and talk to the abuser about the behavior. The abuser must be strongly encouraged to receive help. While an enabler might at first feel guilty about using tough love, it could very well be the first step on the path to recovery.

If you feel you are enabling someone who abuses drugs, muster up the courage to speak with the abuser. Then call Recovery First at 800-706-9190 for immediate help. Urge your loved one to get on the straight and narrow and live a life free from drugs and addiction. If you’re an enabler, you just might be the only one who can help.

About The Contributor
The editorial staff of Recovery First is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thousands... Read More