Empowering vs Enabling During Addiction Recovery

Enabling During Addiction Recovery

The same as every action has an equal and opposite reaction, there are also consequences for everything we do. The same as actions speak louder than words, those that love and surround an addict suffer the consequences of the addict's unacceptable behavior. Whether the addiction is drugs, alcohol, gambling, video games, eating or sex, the enabler suffers through the progressive deterioration of somebody's addiction.

Enabling refers to the process by which family members, such as partners, parent and children, "enable" an addicted person to continue in their addiction, by failing to set appropriate boundaries, failing to recognize the problem, providing money etc. Enablers knowingly or unknowingly aid and assist the addict by saving the addict from the consequences of their completely unacceptable behavior. They let the addicted person continue on with this behavior by rescuing them from its consequences. Enablers give addicts assurance that the enabler or somebody else will always be around to save the addict from their destructive patterns. These patterns aren't just self-destructive, and can destroy everybody around them too.

Enablers have some common characteristics. If you think you're enabling an addict, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I make excuses for their addiction and/or their bad behavior?
  • Have I ever lied to anybody to cover up the addict's poor behavior?
  • Have I bonded them out of jail, paid for their lawyer or paid their fines and costs?
  • Do I avoid talking about the addiction for fear of the response I'll get?
  • Have I threatened to leave the addict if they didn't stop, but never left?

The common thread running through all of these questions is enablement. Enabling behavior only operates to drag out the pain and suffering of both the addict and the people around them.

If you're an enabler, you're also known as being co-dependent. You place a higher priority on the addict's needs than your own needs. You're also referred to as a relationship addict because co-dependents sustain relationships that are destructive, abusive and unilateral. When you're co-dependent and involved with alcoholics or drug addicts, you'll often undertake the addict's responsibilities for them. The pattern begins with good intentions and a genuine desire to help, but as the disease of addiction progresses, your acts as an enabler become desperate. Interpersonal or family functions become distorted, and you increasingly undertake more and more responsibility while the addict's responsibility diminishes. Contempt develops between you and the addict, while the addict expects you to remedy increasingly bad situations they created.

Empowerment During Addiction Recovery

The first step in empowerment from co-dependency is not to do for the addict what he or she can do for themselves. The co-dependent person usually feels guilt, even when the addict is perfectly capable of resolving a situation alone. The addict usually becomes increasingly angry, and their use of manipulation isn't unusual. In this scenario, both the taker and the giver are at fault.

Family-therapy-addiction-recoveryIf you're a co-dependent person, you need to take care of yourself too. You can do that when you start looking at your relationship from another perspective. The importance of taking care of yourself is fundamental, and if you can't take care of yourself, you can't properly take care of others.

When you're empowered in your personal life, you've built confidence and the personal skills necessary to analyze situations, and use common sense to make assessments of those situations. When empowered, you see through the attempts at manipulation and refuse to be manipulated. Once you've empowered yourself, you can indeed help others, but not by paying their bills or cleaning up their messes. You help them by beginning to empower them to make their own confident assessments and common sense decisions.

How many times have we heard that actions speak louder than words? The actions of the enabler are destructive. The words of the addict are manipulative. The sense of empowerment can be achieved through both actions and words.

Ways to encourage empowerment during addiction:

  • Speak and act with honor and honesty. Everybody recognizes integrity.
  • Smile it’s contagious.
  • Be sincere. It makes others feel appreciated.
  • Tell your loved ones that you indeed love them. They'll respect themselves more.
  • Encourage open communication. Show how to communicate thoughts and emotions.
  • Recognize self-improvement. Write goals for it and reward it.
  • Instill core values. Recognizing right from wrong gives purpose and direction.
  • Require accountability. Nobody is accountable if failure has no consequences.
  • Permit independence. It's a great test of self-respect.
  • Respect some failures, but not all. You stumbled a few times too.

If you believe you're an enabler or co-dependent, many support groups are available. Nar-Anon and Al-Anon family support groups consist of families of drug addicts and alcoholics who share their experiences and problems. Any hospital or facility with an addiction recovery unit can refer you to an appropriate support group. They're usually free to attend. Hundreds of interactive online support groups are also available. Just do an internet search.


The place where addiction hits the hardest is at home. The people it hits the hardest are the families. Pathways integrates the family to strengthen and repair current issues that may hinder the healing process. Through the family integration process of working from the inside-out, Pathways Real Life Recovery evaluates and uniquely treats the enabler, the addict, and their family. Family integration is a proven method to treating addiction that is evidence based and proven. The enabler learns to change their patterns while the family also gets support for the person they are caring for. The entire family can live in a healthy and functional home again. If you or someone you love is suffering from addiction, call Pathways Real Life Recovery to get a free assessment opportunity to restructure the belief system that sabotages the ability to gain the results we truly deserve.

Michelle Amerman
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