How to Recognize Enabling Behavior

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According to the University of Pennsylvania Health System, “Enabling behaviors are those behaviors that support our addicted loved one’s chemical use.” Enabling is a common behavior that the loved ones of an addict can fall into. If your friend, family member, spouse, or another important person in your life is an addict, one of the best ways you can help them begin to recover is to look for any enabling behavior you are currently performing and end it.

Recognizing the Behavior

Whether a person is in recovery or is still abusing drugs or alcohol, enabling behavior is harmful. By recognizing this behavior and putting a stop to it, you can help your loved one realize the need to change. Once you stop enabling them, the addict will not have your implicit encouragement of their behavior any longer, and they will also feel more strongly the consequences of their actions. It isn’t easy, but it is better in the long run for both you and the addict to identify and put a stop to these actions.

How Can I Recognize Enabling Behavior?

Enabling Behavior

Criticizing an addict will only encourage them to continue their destructive behavior.

These acts are the ones you engage in every time your loved one gets in trouble, falls back into old, dangerous habits, or otherwise continues in their abuse of substances. Below are some of the common ways you can enable a loved one and why it is not beneficial to them or you.

  • Denying the problem: Denying the problem does not put a stop to it but merely ignores the issue entirely. Behaviors associated with denial are saying things like “Well, it isn’t that bad” or “It isn’t really a problem because…”
  • Justification: Justifying someone else’s drug abuse occurs when you try and explain away the reasons why they do it. “They have had a difficult life,” “They have a stressful job,” etc.
  • Laying blame: Laying blame and criticizing the addict is not helpful. It only pushes them farther away from you and back to their drug of choice.
  • Superiority: Some individuals take on an air of moral superiority, which is harmful to both parties. The addict feels even more resentful and self-loathing, and the enabler feels good about themselves based on of the addict’s problems.
  • Protecting the addict: Many people attempt to protect their loved one by playing their parent, lying for them, or taking over their responsibilities in order to keep others from finding out about their addiction.
  • Using with the addict: If you use with the person in order to watch them and make sure they don’t take too much, you are just letting them know their inability to control their drug use is not their concern––it’s yours.
  • Trying to control the addict: Parents are guilty of this often, but other individuals can do this as well. It is important to remember that just trying to dictate to a person what they can and cannot do isn’t helpful and will probably just drive them away.