Refers to any behaviours no matter how well intentioned that directly or indirectly, allows the alcoholic, addict or co-dependent to continue their self-destructive behaviour. Enabling consists of ideas, feelings, attitudes and behaviours that unwittingly or knowingly keep any person from experiencing and learning from life’s challenges, problems and their natural consequences. We enable through caretaking by assuming their responsibilities, jobs, tasks etc. doing for them what they are capable of doing for themselves. Those we enable use and use us instead of doing. We protect cover up, make excuses, phone in sick, write late or absentee notes, feed, clothes, house, give them money, make excuses for missed family functions and accept unacceptable behaviour out of loyalty. We skimp on us and do without while caring for their family by allowing them to live with us, taking their kids to school and baby-sit out of a false sense of responsibility. Society tells us this is what good mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sons, daughters or friends should do. Frustrated and resentful when our loved one’s behaviour doesn’t change we feel we have failed. Our actions that have been tried with the best of intentions have backfired. If we are doing any of the above behaviour we are living in the problem. If we want to become part of the solution we need to realize that if nothing changes…. nothing changes and it needs to start with us. A definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.

Enabling gives us a false sense of control.

Characteristics of enablers:

We blame ourselves and are unable to or unwilling to recognize our own powerlessness. Direct our resentments, anger and guilt to the object of our misguided help. Direct our resentments, anger and guilt to the object of our misguided help when our expectations are not met. Have poor nutrition habits, under or overweight, tranquilizer cigarette or other medication use. Are conscious of how others feel but have difficulty with our own feelings. We handle crisis but fall apart over trivial events. We have a higher incidence of stress illness including ulcers, headaches, colitis, depression, cancer, autoimmune and arthritis conditions. We are addicted to approval comments like how do you do it? And we couldn’t do it without you…. your special.

Enablers in relationship with an active addict are abused and suffer loss in numerous ways:

Broken promises, emotional abuse, physical abuse, financial abuse, lies, increased stress, increased health problems, sleepless nights, panic attacks, anxiety, worry, anger, sadness, fear, accidents, loss of dreams, freedom, family, marriages, friends, jobs, children, childhoods, relationships, morals, sound judgment, brain function, vision, fortunes, lives, loss of talents, skills, health and hope. Enablers must adapt to the dysfunctional behaviour. They do this by ignoring feelings, evidence, incidents, events, actions, solutions, attitudes, warnings, red flags, threats, pleas, and crisis by minimizing, rationalizing and denial.

A good example is when a parent/spouse/guardian takes responsibility for their son/daughter. Waking him up in the morning, shaking him/her out of bed, helping him/her get dressed, calling the rehab because he/she will be late, etc. You are enabling the behaviour and ensuring things will become worse.
When he/she says, “I am feeling tired and will go to the rehab tomorrow”. Mom says, “It’s okay, I will call and say you are coming tomorrow”. Mom/dad knows he was up late watching movies.

What would you call that? ENABLING
By enabling, we encourage addictive behaviour. We say it’s okay to do this and that. We give them reason to at times shirk responsibilities.


  • Covering: making excuses and lying to friends, relatives, children, etc.
  • Forfeiting fun to accommodate their wishes. For example not going to family functions because he/she does not want to go.
  • Keeping up appearances by making sure that he looks neat and tidy or properly dressed.
  • Taking responsibility for the user by making sure he/she gets to rehab or work on time.
  • Doing everything in the house including their chores/responsibilities.
  • Disposing of drugs so that no-one knows.
  • Taking care of the user who is sick from drugs.
  • Consoling the user who mopes about problems brought open by usage.