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When someone has an addiction, family and friends often want to help. But well-meaning attempts to support loved ones can veer into supporting their addiction. Enablers are people in the life of an addicted person who help them continue or avoid the consequences of their addiction.

In extreme cases, enabling can result in bankruptcy, jail time, or even the death of the person with the addiction. Warning signs can help people recognize enablers in their social circles.

Denial of the Addiction

Enablers may minimize or outright refuse to accept that their loved one is an addict. They may claim, for example, that their loved one's addiction isn't serious because they aren't homeless or because they have a job.

If someone points out harmful things their loved one has done, an enabler will excuse those actions or even deny them outright.

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They Maintain Ignorance About Addiction

People rarely enable their loved ones out of malice. Addiction is a complicated disease and what seems like support can actually cause harm.

Drug recovery centers and doctors who specialize in addiction can provide valuable advice. This advice, however, runs counter to what an enabler wants to do. As a result, an enabler may resist learning about the actual process of addiction, insisting they know better than addiction experts.

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They Blame Or Ignore Other People In Their Life

Everyone deals with a loved one's addiction in different ways, and it's not uncommon for people to act out, try to lighten the mood, or disappear into the background.

An enabler may scapegoat specific people, accusing them of causing the addict's behavior. Other members of their family may fall by the wayside as supporting the person with the addiction takes all of their energy.

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They Put the Addicted Person's Needs First

Sometimes an enabler will sabotage their own needs. Bills go unpaid because the enabler is constantly loaning money to the person with the addiction.

Enablers can become tired or sick because they don't properly care for themselves. Relationships with other family members or friends become strained. Meanwhile, the addiction continues to spiral because it is being enabled.

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They Use With the Person With the Addiction

An enabler may argue that it's better for a loved one to use at home, that they are watching their intake, or that it avoids more dangerous behaviors outside the house.

While supervised drug consumption sites can lower risks, these sites should only be operated and supervised by neutral medical professionals. Loved ones should not be attempting to monitor or regulate this activity by themselves.

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They Clean Up Consequences

It's heartbreaking to watch a loved one suffer, but for many people with addiction, it's the consequences of their actions that help them realize they have a problem. An enabler may eliminate small, early consequences that could have encouraged their loved one to seek help.

They'll do the chores, smooth over arguments, and clean up embarrassing messes. This can escalate to paying bail or rent. Eventually, the consequences grow out of even the enabler's control and by that point, the addiction is far harder to treat.

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They Control the Addict

When an enabler sees that their loved one is struggling, they may start to treat them like a child. If the person with the addiction is in recovery, the enabler may refuse to let them go anywhere on their own for fear of them using again.

While addiction recovery centers may control behaviors for a short time, this is done carefully under professional guidance. Constantly controlling a person keeps them from developing the coping strategies and decision-making skills they need to stay clean.

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They Suppress Emotions

Enablers may bottle up their feelings to avoid confrontation. Hurt, resentment, fear, and sadness are all natural emotions when dealing with addiction.

It's good to express these feelings in a healthy, respectful way, but enablers often avoid sharing these feelings with their loved one and may even try to keep other people from expressing their hurt feelings.

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They Are Co-Dependent

It's natural to feel sad or upset when a loved one is struggling, but enablers take this to an unhealthy extreme. Their entire emotional state may depend on the behavior of the person with the addition.

The enabler may even refuse to send the person to a treatment center or help them get better because they rely too much on their own role as caretaker.

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They Lack Proper Boundaries

Not every person who helps an addicted loved one is an enabler. People certainly require love and support to recover from addiction. The key difference between enabling and helping is forming proper boundaries.

Someone can be available to provide moral and emotional support during the recovery process while still taking take time for their other relationships and their own mental health. They will help with some material needs, but not in a way that sabotages recovery. Many addiction recovery centers offer information to guide those within a person's support system in setting boundaries.

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This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.