A List of Enabling Behaviors – STOP


Too often, parents, friends, and other family member enable destructive behavior without realizing it. While this list of enabling behaviors will be primarily focused on addicts and alcoholics, if you see yourself in this list, the best thing to do is quit immediately. This is only if you have the addict’s best interest at heart.  If not, enabling them will certainly make the addiction worse.  In this article, enabling will be described, reasons why we continue to enable people we love will be explained, examples of enabling behaviors is provided, and the reason why this knowledge helps decrease and hopefully stop enabling behaviors.

What is Enabling?

Because it is hard to distinguish between helping, supporting, or enabling, it is important to define enabling. I know I am guilty of enabling other addicts by loaning them money I shouldn’t, helping them out of jams, etc. Essentially, enabling occurs when you help somebody escape the natural consequences of their actions. Many examples of this are forthcoming.

When we help people, it is usually doing something for someone that they can’t do themselves. An example would be helping someone write a resume when their skills limit their ability of making it look professional. However, if you did the same for a professional writer because they are unemployed, this is clearly enabling. You may even apply for jobs online on their behalf; this is something they should be doing for themselves.

Why Do We Enable?

As family and friends, we want the people we care about to do well in life. The early stages of addiction is when we begin the habit of enabling. As with most habits, it can become ingrained in our psyche and be difficult to break. In a so called normal relationship, two parties typically share tasks such as cleaning up the house. If one spouse suddenly gets slammed at work, the other spouse will pick up the slack.

This dynamic changes when one party is an addict or alcoholic. A spouse might start coming home from “work” drunk. After making a big mess, the alcoholic does not clean up after themselves. As a result the other partner will always clean up the house, fearing embarrassment that other people will see how the alcoholic lives. Since nobody sees the results of the addiction, habitual use continues.  They will never feel like they hit bottom until the enabling stops.

There is Little Reason for the Addict to Stop

As a result, there seem to be no consequences to living in addiction, so it invariably gets worse. As more time goes by family members will start chipping in to the point that, as the addiction gets worse, it still goes unnoticed by most. Consequently, because the addicts life is continually made easier by his efficient family, they may see absolutely no need to change their behavior. This is a recipe for disaster, as those reading this probably know.

If the addict never sees a reason for change, they simply will NOT stop. As a friend or family member, it is your job to stop doing things for the addict that they are more than capable of handling themselves. This will often wake the addict up to the fact that their life is unmanageable. This is the first step toward recovery.  They will never feel like they hit bottom until the enabling stops.

Examples of Enabling Behaviors

  • Assume duties that are not your responsibility
    • Cleaning the addicts house so they don’t have to look at the squalor in which they live
    • Doing their laundry when they bring it over, even though they have a machine.
    • Paying overdue bills for the addict with or without their knowledge
  • Telling lies for the addict
    • You may tell other family and friends that the addict is doing well when nearly everyone knows this isn’t the case
    • Calling in sick for the addict when they are really just hungover
    • You cover for them when they fail to meet an important meeting or obligation
  • Failure to address behavior issues
    • You give the addict the cold shoulder treatment
    • Ignoring the glaring problems the addict creates
  • Drinking or using with the addict
    • You may think you can show them how to drink “normally”
    • Because the alcoholic only shares feelings when drinking, you feel as if this will help draw them out and allow you to find out what is going on inside their head
    • You tell the alcoholic they can drink, but have to monitor the intake so it doesn’t go too far
  • Accepting some blame for addictive behavors
    • You may fear you passed on “bad” genes; this is especially if you have a history of drug addiction or alcoholism in your family
    • You think “if only” a lot. This means that you wish you had raised the child differently.
  • Failure to follow through on threats
    • You may tell the addict that you will not help them financially anymore, but you find a compelling reason to help out when they are in trouble.
    • You allow an addict to stay on your couch if they don’t use, but fail to kick them out when they come home high
  • Cleaning up after the addict
    • You may clean up a mess after they break things.
    • You may try to repair relationships for the addict (emotionally cleaning up after them)
  • Completing work that is not your responsibility
    • An addict may not be contributing a work project so you do their half in addition to your own
    • You may cover for the addict at work or ask for an extension
  • Bailing the addict out of jail or assuming the cost of an attorney
  • Trying to win over people the addict has affected by explaining away their behavior.
    • If an addict behaved crazily, you may say something like “he was drinking on an empty stomach”
    • You may state they were stressed out due to work as an explanation

It is impossible to write an all-inclusive, exhaustive list of enabling behaviors, but you get the picture.

Knowledge Helps Us Stop Enabling

In this post, we have covered the definition of enabling, the insidious way that it becomes a habit, and a great number of examples of enabling behavior. Identifying these behaviors and putting a stop to them is the first step toward really helping your friend of family member suffering with addiction. Addict in the House is a great resource to putting these actionable steps in place.

Please leave any questions about enabling in the comments section. Also, if you have had experience or advice on how to stop enabling, please share that with our community.

Please share this post if it has helped or will help others.



  1. I think another reason family members enable the ones they love is they don’t realize how far gone they are. They also don’t know any other way to help them and addicts are good at convincing people to give in to their addiction.
    Enabling never helps to fix the problem though. What are some ways that you can help that won’t be enabling someone that might be addicted?

    • What you said is quite true.  Addicts and alcoholics are master manipulators.  They become this way out of necessity.  It is impossible to justify continued addiction behaviors without coming up with crafty ways to explain them away.  Truthfully, the help we ask for is usually for a reason that makes sense to the alcoholic at the time. 

      However, this help often allows us to continue using.

      Helping could come in the way of setting them up with people to talk to about their problems, such as a therapist.  Do not do this if they are able to afford it on their own.  Instead of doing things for them, show them how to do it themselves.  I’d appreciate community help here if you have more ideas!

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