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What Family & Friends Can Do to Stop Enabling an Addict

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Clinically Reviewed by:
Lindsey Rae Ackerman, LMFT

Written by:
Alex Salman, MPH on March 7, 2024

Addiction affects more than just the addict. Family and friends can be impacted too, in ways they may not even realize. Relationships are affected and sometimes the addicted person will push away those who care about them most. What you may not think about, though, is how you may be enabling their addiction without realizing it.

Families and close friendships are special relationships meant to build each other up and show unconditional love. However, support and care can become twisted when a loved one is suffering from an addiction. Unknowingly, your shifting and bending to support your loved one and keep them safe could be enabling a drug addict or alcoholic. 

How do you know when your actions have become enabling, and how do you know how to stop enabling someone? Here is some information about this issue and how you can help the person you love without unwittingly aiding their addiction.

Put in mind: Addiction is a Family Disease

When a family member is addicted to any substance, the entire family is affected in some way. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), addiction can be considered a family disease that stresses the family to the breaking point.

Understanding that addiction is a family disease, the recovery approach must involve the family and make them understand how to support without enabling. This is the first step in treatment, as it allows the family to be fully present to their loved ones’ efforts to make fundamental changes in their lives without doing the work for him.

What is Enabling?

It’s completely natural that you would want to help your loved one. However, according to Families Against Narcotics, enabling goes a few steps beyond helping. Helping is assisting the addict with a task that they truly cannot perform themselves, whereas enabling is assisting them with something they can and should be doing themselves. When the lines become blurred, then you may find yourself in dangerous enabling territory.

If you are wondering how to stop enabling a drug addict or an alcoholic, here are some warning signs and things you can do to provide support without enabling or actively encouraging their addiction and destructive habits.

Warning Signs of Enabling

Enabling goes beyond supporting the addict through their tough time, and strays into behavior that is harmful to you and your loved one. When you enable an addict, you are providing them with the opportunity to use their addiction as an excuse or lean deeper into their problem. It is important to remember that you are not the cause of the addiction, and you are not responsible for anything beyond caring about them and helping them realize they need to seek help. 

With that in mind, here are some common examples of enabling behavior that parents, family members, and close friends often find themselves performing:

  • Rationalizing the person’s irrational behaviors and actions
  • Giving or loaning them money
  • Making excuses for them
  • Paying their bills or legal fees
  • Cleaning up after them, especially consistently
  • Lying for them
  • Blaming yourself in some way for their behavior
  • Continuing to give them “one more chance”
  • Threatening actions against them but never follow through
  • Covering up for them with work, school, etc. to avoid embarrassment

All of these behaviors are common and understandable, but they are all also inherently enabling an addict’s bad decisions. It can be difficult to stop these behaviors even after you have discovered them, and many people find themselves slipping back into them as they try to support their loved ones. 

The most important thing to remember is that you cannot “fix” their addiction. All you can do is change how you react, and how you can convince them to get professional help.

How to Support without Enabling

Now that you know some of the major signs of enabling, here are some steps you can take to find the balance of helping without hurting.

1. Stop making excuses for them

This can be the most difficult habit to shake, as it often becomes second nature to defend them or keep all prying eyes away. Frequently the things you are making excuses for are incidents that occur while they are intoxicated or high, which can result in memory loss. This is very common with alcoholics. Alcohol can affect memory after only a few drinks. Many drugs can do the same thing.

One of the first steps to seeking help is often realizing the consequences of their actions as a result of their addiction. Unless they are actively putting their life in mortal danger – seeking out even harder drugs or engaging in reckless behavior (at which point a more serious intervention may be necessary) – then they need to understand what the addiction is making them do.

If they fall asleep in the yard, leave them there. If they are obnoxious at a social gathering, refrain from trying to smooth it over. Once they are sober, they need to be able to face the music.

2. Participate in Family Therapy

In some times of rehabilitation, it is common for the family to participate in therapy sessions. These sessions can be very beneficial to the healing process for the loved one and the family in general.

3. Try a more open communication

When early in the recovery process, the individual will face challenges. To help him, it is necessary to create a space for honest and open communication. To do this, make sure that your loved one knows that you are fully available for conversations about the difficulties they are going through. It is very important that you are not judgmental or confrontational when he or she confides in you. Always try to guide them to carry out their relapse prevention tools, such as calling a sponsor, attending a meeting, or distracting themselves through exercise or other activities.

4. Learn more about addiction

It is very common to have misconceptions about addictions, this can bring some feelings of surprise when he or she cannot stop using drugs or alcohol.  Therefore, family members should strive to become more educated about how addiction acts on them and how it affects the brain.

5. Enjoy healthy activities together

It is very difficult to establish a new sober lifestyle, they may be feeling a little down about having to give up certain relationships and activities in their new sobriety. You can help by spending time with them, which makes it easier for them to have a sober lifestyle. Offer to go for a run or invite them to watch a movie together. Or simply go out to lunch, each of these moments can be meaningful to their recovery.


Enabling an addict seems unimportant while you’re doing it, because it often comes from a place of love. However, it swiftly becomes far more dangerous than not helping at all, and hurts both you and your loved one. Knowing the signs and knowing how to stop enabling someone are the first steps on the journey to their recovery – and yours.

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