Enabling vs Empowering

enabling vs empowering

When your loved one is showing symptoms of addiction and is struggling through life, your first instinct is to help them. You want them to be happier and healthier and may even go to extreme measures to protect them from themselves. There is a significant difference in enabling vs empowering, which could impact you and your loved one in very different ways.

What is Enabling?

Even though your intentions are probably good when you try to help someone who is struggling, you may actually be reinforcing their destructive behaviors without realizing it. Enabling basically makes life easier for your loved one, but that may end up being the worse thing for them when they are addicted to drugs or alcohol. As a parent, a sibling, or a close friend, it is hard to see someone you care about suffer. Enabling them, though, will usually make the situation much more difficult for everyone.

Enabling Behavior

It’s important to understand how your behaviors may be enabling vs empowering your loved one. Enabling can wear on you, physically and mentally, in addition to potentially being financially costly. If you recognize any of these behaviors in yourself, you may be jeopardizing your own health and well-being and not truly helping the person in your life who is addicted.

Ignoring or tolerating your loved one’s destructive behavior. You may try to ignore the behavior because you don’t want to give your loved one any more reinforcing attention or you may be afraid to acknowledge that there is a problem. You may also be fearful of what your loved one’s reaction would be if you were to challenge their behavior.

Providing excessive assistance financially. Covering debts that someone cannot pay because they spend all of their money on drugs or alcohol will enable that individual to continue using the substances, as there are no repercussions to them financially.

Making excuses or covering. You want to protect the people you care about, naturally. However, when you find that you are constantly making excuses for them, you may be enabling them. For example, if they are not able to get to work on time, or at all, you might be tempted to phone their supervisor with a story about them feeling ill or having car trouble. In fact, you know that their addiction is probably keeping them from fulfilling their responsibilities.

Doing their work for them. In the same manner, you may take on more than your share of responsibilities at home or with the family when the individual who is addicted is not able to do so. You may do more household chores or take care of other daily activities that your loved one neglects because of their addiction.

Denying there is a problem. Along with making excuses for your loved one, you may not admit to yourself or to others that they have a problem with drugs or alcohol. Parents, especially, may see their child’s addiction as a failure on their part and will rationalize the substance use as only being done occasionally or as not being a serious issue. When you are enabling vs empowering a friend or family member, you insist to other people that everything is fine even as you struggle to accept the truth yourself.

Establishing consequences but then not following through. You have taken a step toward empowering your loved one by stating that there will be consequences if they continue their behavior. However, when the time comes, you back down and do not follow through. This sends a message that nothing will happen if they continue to do what they’ve always done, so they can continue to take advantage of you with no repercussions.

Empowering Your Loved One

The most significant difference in enabling vs empowering is that when you empower the person you care about, you help them change their behavior on their own. Some steps you can take to do that are to guide them toward the resources they need to overcome their addiction to drugs or alcohol and teach them the skills they need to succeed on their own.

One way to truly help your loved one is to enforce those consequences you established and to not do everything for them. By empowering your loved one, you are giving them the power to make and live with their own choices and to find the help they need for a healthier life.  


At BRC Recovery, we understand the many ways addiction affects the whole family. We offer an integrated Family Program to educate your entire household on the best ways to eliminate enabling and to help your recovering family member. Participants are introduced to support groups and are kept updated on their loved one’s progress throughout the inpatient care period.

If addiction is an issue for you or a family member, don’t delay in seeking help. Contact us at 1-866-291-2676, or through our online form, to learn more about our programs.