Are You an Enabler?

How Shielding an Addict Can Harm You

Enabling is shielding an addicted individual from the costs of addiction. This shielding changes the cost-benefit analysis by lowering the costs and thereby lowering the addict's motivation to change.

Ironically, enabling is typically a well-intentioned effort to be helpful to the addicted individual. These well-intentioned efforts can take many forms, including making excuses for the individual to others, performing the individual's responsibilities, financially supporting the individual, staying around and accepting abuse or neglect so as not to let the individual be lonely, and similar activities.

In an ideal world, partners and families and friends might immediately distance themselves from addictive behavior. However, many times the addicted individual is still relied on, and distancing is not easy. A classic example is the woman with children who has not been previously employed outside the home, and who relies for financial support solely on her addicted and abusive but still employed husband. In this case shielding him from the consequences of his actions (like getting fired) is also shielding herself. We can understand why she might call the boss to say his Monday morning hangover is a cold!

If you are involved with an addicted individual, become as independent of the individual as you can, develop new support systems for yourself, and to the extent feasible let the costs of addiction fall on the individual, not yourself. If distancing yourself (or even departing) from the relationship becomes desirable and feasible, recognize that this cost may or may not be motivating to the individual. Decide to distance yourself or not by what it will do for you, not what it might do for the individual.

Adapted from Sex, Drugs, Gambling, & Chocolate: A Workbook for Overcoming Addictions (2nd Ed.), by Dr. A. Thomas Horvath. Available at online and local bookstores or directly from Impact Publishers, PO Box 6016 , Atascadero , CA 93423-6016 , www.bibliotherapy.com or phone 1-800-246-7228.

Page last modified or reviewed by athealth on January 29, 2014