Addiction is a tragically common problem in not only America, but the world at large. The line between what may be considered “every once and awhile” or “safe” and what is not, can be blurry for those who struggle with addiction. Caring for someone you love who struggles with addiction can be difficult, especially when enabling the behavior can feel like helping.

What Is Addictive Behavior?

Addictive behavior can often be explained away by both the addict and those who love him/her. Showing up late, breaking promises and borrowing money can often be justified. When it becomes a regular problem, justification may seem increasingly difficult to do.

Lying is one of the most common behaviors found in active addiction. Although family and friends may know the addict is lying, sometimes it’s easier to go along with fiction than it is to face the truth. Lying to shield and addict from either embarrassment, legal repercussions or social difficulties can seem like helping. This type of behavior, while common, does not help the problem.

What Is The Difference Between Helping and Enabling?

The phrase ‘enabling’ can be confusing, especially to friends and family who have only the best intentions of helping. Enabling essentially means that you or someone who cares about the addict, is accomodating the addict in order to protect them from facing consequences. Since it is a natural reaction to want to protect someone you love, accomodating an addict may seem like the right thing to do depending on the circumstances. By shielding them from the consequences of their actions, however, they are often less likely to change.

The Consequences of Enabling

The consequences of enabling extend past the welfare of the addict. By using enabling tactics, those who are trying to protect the addict may lose respect for themselves. Ignoring a problem is not the same as fixing it and by hiding the obvious issues that surround addiction, those who enable can feel guilty, depressed and anxious.

Enabling can cause addicts to lose faith in themselves. By depending on others to take care of their reputation or protect them from harm, resentment can easily grow toward those who think they are helping. By shielding the addict from possible consequences, the desire for an addict to stop using drugs can be weakened over time. When there is little emphasis on personal responsibility, the identity of both the addict and those who care for him or her can feel shakey and misguided.

Signs of Enabling Behavior

Enabling may come from a place of love, but it is often surrounded by complicated feelings. Shame, perfectionism, a fear of asking for help and even what is known as a “hero complex” can fuel enabling behavior. Breaking the cycle of enabling can be extremely uncomfortable, especially if there has been generational substance abuse issues within a family unit.

5 common enabling behaviors include:
- Denial
- Making excuses
- Justification
- Suppressing feelings
- Avoidance

These behaviors can occur in a variety of scenarios. They may happen irregularly or with different degrees of intensity. An underlying sense of dishonesty with one’s self or others is usually one of the root problems underlying enabling behavior.

6 Practical Tips For How To Help

1.) Set boundaries. Setting clear, defined limits is a way to mark progress as well as allow space for your own life and goals. It’s easy to get caught up in the intensity of supporting someone with a drug addiction. By creating firm boundaries, you can take responsibility for your own life so that there is a healthy divide in care-taking.

2.) Do not shield the addict. As painful as it may be to see someone who struggles with addiction face the consequences of this disease, it may be essential when encouraging the desire to quit using substances.

3.) Tell the truth. Making excuses for the addict will not help them. Even if it may feel better for you to excuse their behavior, honesty can help erase the stigma and guilt that surrounds addiction.

4.) Take personal responsibility. Blaming an addict for taking up time will not help you or your loved one. By taking personal responsibility, you can avoid any type of enmeshment that comes with relationship dysfunction.

5.) Encourage recovery behavior. Instead of pointing out only negatives, encourage good behavior. Seeking help and honesty are good first steps to recovery.

6.) Get help for yourself. Finding a support system can be a lifeline for those who are trying to help addicts. Taking care of yourself is imperative before trying to help anyone else.


Addiction can impact anyone’s life. Even those who are not addicts can suffer the consequences stemming from addiction. To better help someone you love fight addiction, finding the right support is crucial.