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Addiction, Enabling, and Codependency

When your loved one is addicted to drugs or alcohol, you naturally want to help them. However, there is a fine line between helping and enabling. The connection between addiction, enabling, and codependency can actually prove detrimental to you and to your loved one. It is important to know where to draw that line.

When Helping Becomes Enabling

When a loved one is struggling, your instinct is to reach out and offer help. This makes sense when someone is attempting to accomplish a task and just can’t get it done without help.

Helping someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol can very quickly turn into enabling, however, and that can, in turn, perpetuate the problem. For example, you may make excuses for your spouse when he is hungover every morning. Or you may lend money to your friend who is addicted to drugs, so she won’t be forced to steal to support her habit.

If you step in to solve your loved one’s problems, you take away any motivation for them to take responsibility for their own actions. If there is no motivation, there is no reason for them to change their addictive behaviors. An enabler sets up the addict to dig themselves deeper into trouble.

Are You an Enabler?

To determine whether you’ve crossed the line from helping to enabling, ask yourself some questions:

  • Do you often ignore unacceptable behavior?
  • Do you find yourself resenting the responsibilities you take on?
  • Do you consistently put your own needs and desires aside in order to help someone else?
  • Do you have trouble expressing your own emotions?
  • Do you ever feel fearful that not doing something will cause a blowup, make the person leave you, or even result in violence?
  • Do you ever lie to cover for someone else’s mistakes?
  • Do you consistently assign blame for problems to other people rather than the one who is really responsible?
  • Do you continue to offer help when it is never appreciated or acknowledged?

The Codependent Relationship

Enabling is a sign of an unhealthy codependence. The link between addiction, enabling, and codependency works both ways. When you enable your loved one, your own self-esteem may be dependent on your ability to feel in control of an unmanageable situation. However, enabling is not help in the true sense of the word. You are helping in inappropriate ways and that usually makes the situation worse.

A codependent relationship is common with a loved one who has a substance use disorder. One person is abusing the substance, whether it is drugs or alcohol, and that person depends on the other person to supply money, food, shelter, or excuses.

In fact, codependency is often referred to as a relationship addiction. The two people in the relationship – you and your loved one who is addicted – tend to form and become dependent on an unhealthy, emotionally harmful relationship.

Codependency is not usually intentional, though. Again, your natural instinct is to help, which becomes enabling, which leads to a codependent relationship. In codependency, one person is not necessarily knowingly trying to manipulate the other, even if that’s the result. Similarly, a person who defines himself through the relationship may not be doing so in a conscious way. When you become more aware of the subconscious motivations at work, you can then move forward with improving the situation.

Time to Stop Enabling

Allowing your loved one to continue with their addiction by enabling their actions only makes the situation worse and deepens the damage that is done to both of you in the codependent relationship. Ending the enabling behavior is not as easy as it sounds, of course. You want to help your loved one. However, the best way to help them is to allow them to suffer the consequences of their behavior, as difficult as that may be for you.

You may need to be the spouse who stops making excuses about your loved one’s hangovers or the parent who stops giving your child money so he won’t go hungry after he buys his drugs. Instead of enabling them, take steps to empower them to take responsibility for their actions. Guide them toward treatment options. Support them in their recovery progress. By putting a stop to the enabling behavior, you will ultimately make a true difference in someone’s life. You will help them live life in a self-sufficient and healthy way.

Empower Your Loved One

Empowering means truly helping your loved one, as they work to make changes in their own life. Empowering takes you and your loved one out of the cycle of addiction, enabling, and codependency. By empowering your loved one, you help them change and succeed on their own by guiding them toward the resources they need. You are truly helping them develop the skills they need to overcome their addiction and move toward a successful recovery.


Addiction affects the whole family. When your loved one is addicted to drugs or alcohol, we know you want to help and you may need help yourself. At BRC Recovery, our Family Program addresses the challenges you and your loved one face every day. Our team of experts focuses on holistic healing so your loved one can experience real recovery.