Enabling occurs out of wrong actions caused by misplaced concern of loved ones for an alcoholic. When family members become concerned about a loved one’s alcohol use, they generally tend to do wrong things. Operating out of a sense of loyalty and love, they will unwittingly enable the disease to progress. Inevitably, the alcohol or other drug use becomes worse.

Most people suffering from chemical dependency have an enabling system. This system is comprised of well-wishing friends and family members. The enablers may be the source of money or the things that money can buy, like food and shelter. They may be the source of alibis or services such as legal help. Or, they may simply ignore the problem.There are two phases of enabling: innocent enabling and desperate enabling. Innocent enabling occurs when family members do not realize that their loved one is going through a problem and they enable him out of love. On the other hand, in desperate enabling, when family members realize that their loved one is having a serious problem they still enable the patient out of fear.

Enabling can take a toll on the family members themselves. Ironically, their attempts to control the situation may impact them physically and emotionally.

Just as families can do a lot to make things worse, they can also help to make things better. When the enabling system turns into an intervening system, the disease becomes much harder to maintain. Friends and family cannot cure chemical dependency, but they can have a very positive impact on the problem. Families can break the cycle of enabling in three ways:

  1. Talk openly and honestly with the alcoholic about the problem. Stick to the facts and don’t be judgmental. Talk about your own feelings, but don’t try to inflict guilt. Only talk when the person is sober. Do not nag or scold. Talk about what you will do to help, and also talk about what you will no longer do to enable the problem. Also, talk openly and honestly with other family members about the problem, so everyone is on the same page.
  2. Do not give or lend money for the addiction, or to cover debts caused by the addiction. For example, if the rent money has been spent at the bar, don’t block the natural consequences of that action. Otherwise, one is only buying the next drink. However, if young children are involved, this strategy may not be appropriate. Be vigilant in protecting these silent victims of addiction.
  3. Become involved in a program of recovery. Al-anon, Nar-anon, and Families Anonymous are invaluable resources. It is often too difficult to stop the enabling process without help and support from those who have been down this road. Join a group, and draw on their experience, strength, and hope.