When one of your loved ones is an alcoholic, you may hear the term “enabling” used frequently. There is a thin line between helping an addict and enabling one and the two are often confused for one another. Wanting to help your loved one through their addiction is normal and even noble in sentiment, but it is easy to transition from helping to becoming an enabler. So, this poses the question, what exactly is an enabler? How can one tell if they are overstepping their bounds? And most importantly, how can someone learn to help rather than enable? 

What is Enabling?

When you are enabling an alcoholic, that means you are doing things for the alcoholic that they could normally do for themselves. If you begin to wash your addicted loved one’s clothes, go shopping for them, or complete responsibilities that you know they are capable of doing while sober, you are enabling them. If you are protecting an addict or alcoholic from feeling the consequences of their actions, you are enabling them to continue to use. If you don’t allow an addict to hit their bottom, they won’t feel a need or a desire to get sober. 

How to End Your Enabling Behavior

If you are realizing that you have been unintentionally enabling your loved one, you may be wondering what steps you can take to end the cycle of enabling. You may feel conflicted by your urge to be caring and helpful, but there are three simple ways to prevent enabling behaviors while continuing to help your loved one. 

Stop Loaning Them Money

One of the most common forms of enabling alcoholics is loaning them money. Addicts and alcoholics constantly run out of money because they have to fund their habit, so when they run out of finances they go to those closest to them. They may be using the money to pay bills that they neglected, to buy food, or any other seemingly plausible reason to need help with finances. Even if their intention seems pure, it is important to remember why they are unable to pay their bills. Addicts prioritize buying drugs or alcohol over their responsibilities and when we don’t allow them to feel the consequences, they don’t think there is anything wrong with their actions. 

If you frequently loan an active-addict money, they will keep coming back for more. When you are giving them money, you may as well be buying them the alcohol themselves. In the long run, your financial help will actually hurt them. Learn how to say no when they ask you for money, stick to your guns, and do not allow the guilt to creep in. It can be hard to say no to an addict, being that they are extremely good at emotional manipulation. When you remind yourself that enabling behaviors just keep an addict sick longer, the guilt-trips will cease to work. 

Do not lie or make excuses for them

When an addicted loved one gets in trouble, it may be your first reaction to attempt to save them from their consequences by lying for them or making excuses. When you do this, you are taking away from their ability to feel the consequences of their drinking or drug abuse. For example, if your loved one loses a job as a direct result of their drug abuse and you lend them money so that they can afford to be unemployed, they won’t be able to see how their drinking is really affecting their life. They need to be able to see the full magnitude of their actions in order to begin to even understand that their drinking is a problem. 

Stop feeling sorry for them & prioritize yourself 

Most of the time, our unwavering need to help loved ones who are suffering from addiction stems from us feeling bad for them. While addiction is a serious and unfortunate disease, feeling bad for an addicted loved one does nothing to help them. In fact, when we feel bad for them we tend to begin those enabling behaviors. So in order to truly help an addict, we need to end the feelings of pity and begin to hold them accountable for their actions. 
Making yourself a priority will work wonders if you’re trying to stop enabling an addict or alcoholic. Most of the time, while we are enabling people we neglect our own needs in the process. One good way to effectively learn how to make yourself a priority while helping an addict, rather than enabling them, is to go to Al-anon meetings. These are meetings for families of addicts and alcoholics specifically designed to help you recover. When you begin to prioritize yourself, you will find that you don’t obsess over saving your loved one as much because you don’t have the time to. Also, in order to effectively help another person, it is imperative that you are taking care of yourself first.