7 Signs that You’re Enabling an Addict

7 Signs that You're Enabling an Addict

Depression is a common symptom for both addicts and their loved ones

Addiction is a psychological disease that affects not only the addict, but also nearly everyone in his or her life. The concept of “codependency” has been developed to express the various emotional, relational and social patterns that emerge around addicts and their loved ones. If left unchecked, many codependent habits cause bystanders to enable the very addictive behavior they are trying to fix.

If you have a loved one who is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, you may find yourself engaging in one or more of the following types of enabling behavior.

Blame Shifting

It is common for the friends and loved ones of an addict to assume that they are somehow responsible for the disease. Many wonder what would have happened if they had used a different parenting style or hadn’t been as supportive of what they believed was innocent or harmless drinking or drug use. While understanding the cause of addiction can be helpful in the recovery process, the acceptance of blame often leads to feelings of guilt and corresponding compensating behavior.


Addicts quickly become expert manipulators of others. The number one priority of an addict is to protect his or her access to drugs or alcohol. Addicts will use complex emotional manipulation to warp thoughts, words, and actions in service of the disease. Addicts are especially good at manipulating people through guilt.

Loss of Boundaries

All healthy relationships require thoughtful, healthy boundaries in order to thrive. Boundaries prevent abuse, manipulation and enablement. Addiction causes these boundaries to be fractured and re-shaped in ways that protect the status quo of the addict as opposed to the health and well being of friends and family. Addiction counseling is an excellent place to learn about creating and enforcing healthy boundaries.

Abusive Words and Actions

Drugs and alcohol often erode self-control and impulse management. The results can be catastrophic. Most family and close friends of addicts are forced to endure episodic outbursts that may include verbal and physical abuse. Codependency also causes victims of violence and abuse to stay in dangerous situations much longer than they should.

Negative Support

Many addicts are prevented from experiencing the full effects and consequences of their choices because a family member or friend bails them out. The following are just a few examples of this kind of negative, or counter-productive support:

  • Bailing an addict out of jail
  • Making excuses to cover for poor performance at work or school
  • Providing financial support when the addicts’ funds have been spent

Even ongoing relational contact can have an enabling effect in some circumstances. In some cases it is necessary for the friends and family members to cut off contact with the addict in order to push him or her to get help.


Living with an addict creates great stress. Many family members find themselves taking out that stress on innocent bystanders instead of dealing with it appropriately. Stress can cause serious physical illness as well as depression, anxiety, panic attacks and additional substance abuse. Many children of alcoholics grow up to be addicts themselves due to self-medication and poor stress management.


Every person’s emotional system can only take a certain amount of abuse before serious repercussions are noticed. Depression is a common symptom for both addicts and their loved ones. Depression is also one of the most common causes of future substance abuse.

24 Hour Addiction Support Line

If you would like more information, or to speak personally to a staff member with special training in the area of codependence prevention and recovery support, please call our toll-free helpline today.