<img height="1" width="1" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=264746204247287&amp;ev=PageView &amp;noscript=1">

The Climb

Enabling Behavior: Are You Enabling Your Child?

Feb 20, 2019 8:00:00 AM / by Ascension Recovery Services

If your child is using substances (drugs and alcohol), you may have been told that there are certain things you do for them are “enabling.” This can be hard because all you want to do is help them.

Read on to learn about what enabling is, signs of enabling and how to break the cycle.


When your loved one suffers from substance use disorder (SUD), you may feel helpless. Because of this feeling, you may feel more inclined to “fix” your loved one’s issues because it is perceived that your loved one is suffering and this is the only way to help them.

It is easy for parents of young adults struggling with SUD to fall into this habit. As a parent, you may feel that it is your job to help your child, but unfortunately, helping is different when it comes to addiction. In the context of addiction, helping or enabling is stepping in between your child and the consequences of their actions. One aspect of addiction that makes it different than other chronic conditions is the connection between addiction, mental health and behavioral issues. It is important for those affected by SUD and their loved ones to understand that these behaviors and mental health problems can be related or due to their SUD.

Stepping in between someone suffering with SUD and consequences associated with their SUD can hurt them in the long run. You may feel guilt or shame for not helping your child, but if you continue to enable your loved ones, they may not see that they have a problem, grow or gain responsibility.

These enabling behaviors could serve to keep the addiction in place.


There are clear signs that show parents could be enabling their child who is affected by SUD:

  • Ignoring negative behavior: This behavior can involve overlooking problems or denying that the problem exists.
  • Difficulty expressing emotions: Enablers are often unsure how to express their feelings, especially if there are negative repercussions for doing so.
  • Prioritizing the affected needs before their own: It is natural to help loved ones. Enabling takes helping a step too far: when the addict has their needs taken care of while the enabler neglects their own.
  • Acting out of fear: Addiction can cause frightening occurrences. The enabler will do whatever it takes to avoid these situations.
  • Lying to others to cover the affected behavior: An enabler will lie to present a controlled and peaceful situation.
  • Blaming people other than the person affected: To protect their loved one from these consequences of drug or alcohol abuse, the enabler might accuse others of causing the addiction.

These behaviors of parents or loved ones are signs that they may be enabling addiction.


Enabling is a habit, and it can be broken. There are steps parents and loved ones can take to break the enabling cycle:

Talk openly about shifts in behaviors: Families may have an understanding of the habits and behaviors they would like to shift that could be enabling their child. The best way to make these changes is to openly discuss the plan with the person affected by SUD. These conversation tips can facilitate the conversation in an honest manner:

  • Choose a time to talk when the user will be sober.
  • Emphasize the fact that the changes come from love and not punishment.
  • Use open-ended questions about addiction to help the person come to understand that substance abuse might be a root to the issues the family is facing.
  • Set limits, and stick to them.

This conversation can be brief, but the family should clearly point out the specific behaviors that are going to change and why they are changing.

Work in teams: After that opening conversation, families should limit the one-on-one time they spend with the user. According to the Association of Intervention Specialists, it is aimed to help reduce pressure and manipulation.

Do not buy or offer drugs or alcohol to the user: This may seem obvious, but it is important to remember that drugs and alcohol are a common part of everyday life for many Americans. Living with a family that drinks can be hard for those affected by SUD, as temptations are everywhere. Enabling families can take those challenges to the next level. People affected by SUD can discuss drug or alcohol use in terms of celebrations. For example, they “deserve” a drink because they have “been good all week.” This is not a celebration, and stopping the enabling cycle means refusing to participate in the addiction.

enabling behaviors

Let law enforcement do their job: Much of the behavior associated with an addiction is illegal. The affected might steal money or drugs, purchase illegal drugs or drive while intoxicated. These can be awful crimes, and the families may be able to help their loved ones escape the consequences of these addiction. But in the end, it is not smart. Families that intervene too early could remove an addiction consequence that could shift a person’s thinking and prompt them to get help. Families that do not interfere with that process could help the person they love.

If your loved one has legal issues, and you would like a professionals guidance, please talk with us.


Work with a counselor: Life with a substance user can be stressful, and families can develop persistent health problems such as panic attacks, anxiety or depression. Family members might still think that there is something they can do to make the person’s addiction go away. These are tough patterns to shift, and a counselor might help. Individual counseling sessions can help people to work through their personal thoughts and feelings about the addiction, and counselors may provide coaching that can assist people when the going gets tough.

Emphasize treatment for addiction: That’s why families should continue to bring up the promise of treatment as they shift from traditional enabling behaviors. They should remind those affected by SUD that treatment works and that treatment could make the whole family feel better. Families should remember that some of the affected people won’t accept the possibility of treatment right away. It’s a bold idea, and sometimes, people need to think about it and ponder it before they agree to take action. Families that respect that process of change, and who refuse to give up hope, may see the sobriety come with time.

If you want to sit down with a professional and talk about this conversation, give us a call.




Families enable for the same reason their loved ones use different substances. It is a comfortable alternative to confronting the situation. Families can be shocked when they realize that enabling to a family is an addiction similar to the addiction of those affected by SUD. Enabling is a behavior taught to families by their loved ones to keep their addictions comfortable. Here are five examples of enabling behaviors taught to families by their loved ones to help keep the addiction comfortable for the user at the expense of the family:

  • Guilt: The affected teach families that it is their fault and everything bad that happens is because of some other person, place or thing. Because families feel this guilt, they become enablers.
  • Fear: Families are taught that if they try to intervene, they will hate the family, die if they stop the addictive behavior or never talk to them again.
  • Hope: Your loved one teaches you that they will stop on their own and that they have a plan. Families start to believe that if the loved one gets the right job or meets the right person that this will go away. Your loved one teaches you to wait and do nothing.
  • Victim: Those affected by SUD become victims. They regularly think to themselves and teach others that if you had their terrible practices or life, you would also drink or take drugs.
  • Shame: Families often feel like they were too strict or too lenient. Families who have children that are a product of divorce or if they have a parent that was absent due to working long shifts to make ends meet, these families often experience feelings of shame that their behaviors contributed to their loved one’s SUD. It’s important for families to be familiar with the “3 Cs.” The family did not cause this disease. The family cannot cure this disease. The family cannot control their loved one’s behavior. Overcoming feelings of shame will go a long way towards healing on the family’s behalf.


Enabling the affected can be a difficult habit to break. For the affected to realize the consequences of their behavior, their loved ones have to stop enabling substance abuse.

Recovery is not easy, at Ascension Recovery Services, we are here to help you through every step of recovery. We provide a variety of programs to provide accountability and guidance to keep you on track to a sober life.

We have a team of experts and specialists with years of experience helping individuals reach sobriety.

Contact us to get help with teaching families to change enabling behaviors to make their loved ones become accountable. Call us today at 304-241-4585, or click below to learn more about our intervention services.


Topics: Addiction Recovery, Addiction

Ascension Recovery Services

Written by Ascension Recovery Services

Ascension Recovery Services is a team of experts and specialists with years of experience working with individuals and organizations aiming to open behavioral health organizations.

Subscribe to Email Updates

Recent Posts