ERG: Get the facts about rehab
For people with drug & alcohol problems

What Is An Enabler?

how to tell if you are an enabler

What is An Enabler? Definition, Behaviour & Psychology

You think it would be simple to spot and identify as an enabler, but those who take on this role are often in denial of their own behaviour too.

Enablers will allow their loved ones to continue with their self-destructive patterns and shocking behaviours.

But whilst this tends to come with quite a bit of stigma, it’s important to look beyond that as a loved one’s life is often on the line.

Get help.

When love turns into fear and help turns into control

Enablers often detest the behaviours of the enabled and frequently feel anger, which causes blame and a lack of understanding.

However, enablers fear the consequences of this behaviour even more, hence locking them in a lose-lose position.

Boundaries feel like punishment, tough love is painful as they do not want to convey abandonment or rejection to the one they love.

Sometimes, the enablers have others they need to protect like children and other family members from these consequences.

It is therefore used as a distorted attempt to solve the problem, but we know the problem does not just go away on its own.

Talk to us if you need help.

How to tell if you are in fact, an enabler:

  • You ignore or tolerate problematic behaviour
  • You give financial assistance
  • You make excuses for them
  • You take on more share of the responsibilities
  • You avoid the issue
  • You brush things off
  • You deny there’s a problem – that’s just the way they are
  • You sacrifice your own needs

By being an enabler you are also in denial

Does the following sound familiar?

  • “If I kick them out, they’ll have nowhere to go and be homeless. They are awful with money and will not be able to do it on their own. What else am I supposed to do?”
  • “Every time I talk to them about their addiction, I feel like I am putting in their brain, they always seem to go on an even bigger binge and that scares me into causing that behaviour.”
  • “I know I shouldn’t have paid for a lawyer, but if they went to jail then they would lose their job, and consequently we would lose our home.”
  • “Every time they get into a fight with their partner, I let them stay here because I’m scared they will get hurt – I just wish they would leave.”
  • “They spend all their money on drugs and have none left for food, but I don’t want them to be hungry or starve, so I help them out and pay for them.”
  • “I lend them money to buy things I know they need when they’ve run out, but they promise to pay me back.”
  • “They don’t mean it when they get upset, I know they are struggling mentally and the death of their mother doesn’t help. I just want to be there for them.”

This list can go on and on, and of course, each of these sentences is valid, especially if you are a caring person – but these are extremely difficult situations.

Can you see that sentences like this and the actions around them display enabling behaviour that does not force someone to put their addiction behind them.

But you care right? And what else are you supposed to do? Our advice is to set boundaries, be strict, and most importantly get help and leave it to the professionals.

Everybody loses

signs you are an enabler

Your family loses the person they once knew and love. You lose control, your home, your marriage, your life and maybe sometimes your will. But your loved one also loses.

They lose control, themselves especially in regards to addiction and their future. They have gotten themselves into a pattern that they do not know how to break, and just like this, so have you.

The enabled person is stuck. Stuck in a role where decision making is taking away from them, where they feel incompetent, incapable, dependent and disempowered.

The acceptance of this will destroy their self-esteem and continue to drive them into the ground, which prevents them from becoming self-sufficient or responsible.

The dangers of enabling addict behaviour

The danger of this is that the enabler or enablers steal the chance where the enabled can practice responsibility and reach their full potential. This is because the enabler tends to solve the problems on their behalf, and this can be as simple as calling into work sick for them.

The enabled cannot solve problems for themselves, and you have to stop doing this for them.

Giving back responsibility

Mental Health and Sitgma

You need to accept that your enabling behaviour does actually come from a place of love.

You may buy yourself another day, or be able to prevent embarrassment or emergencies, but again, you are just postponing the reality. The reality is that it’s bad.

Begin to break this pattern of enabling by returning responsibility where it belongs. You can do this by setting boundaries and decline to attempt to take responsibility for anyone but yourself.

Your loved one’s decisions are theirs to make and the consequences of their decisions belong to them alone. 

How to stop being an enabler

The one you love who is struggling with addiction lives in the exact same world as everybody else. They have the same rules to abide by and the same consequences.

By managing their world for them, you are teaching them that they do not need to manage it themselves. This means that they might tap out of their internal as well external resources.

By creating and placing boundaries, you are also letting go of your need to control the situation, outcome, and your loved one’s experiences.

However, we know all of this is easier said than done. If you’re stuck, unsure, or don’t know what to do next please get in touch with us. We’re online now – visit our Live Chat page.

Or call this number for confidential advice 0808 1150 446.

More help and advice


About the Author

  • Janet has worked within recovery for over 9 years and is an intrinsic part of ERG. She specialises in family therapy connecting the addict back with the family of origin.