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Enabling Behaviors and How They Harm Addiction Recovery

ladder - ladder dropping down - rescue ladder - enabling behaviors and how they harm addiction recovery - great oaks recoveryAnyone who discovers they have a life-threatening disease immediately runs into new and baffling terminology used to explain both the symptoms and the treatment of their disease. The disease of addiction is no different. One term often used in addiction is ‘enabling.’ What does it mean to enable an addicted loved one?

In most cases, people who enable addiction are not aware that they are doing so. Their intent is to help their loved one, but they don’t always know the best way to do that. Enabling refers to the process by which family members, such as partners, parents and children, make it possible for the addicted person to continue in their addiction. Such behaviors include failing to set appropriate boundaries, failing to recognize the problem, providing money, etc.

Enabling behaviors are any behaviors that allow the person suffering from addiction to avoid taking responsibility for their behavior. The addicted person comes to believe that someone will always be there to “bail them out,” and their drinking or drug use continues to spiral out of control. In a very real way, it is possible to enable a person to death. Caregivers or partners may think, “I love this person. I can’t let something bad happen to them.” The sad truth is that the most loving thing a family member of friend can do is to let the person they love take responsibility for themselves. Many people in addiction recovery will testify that the boundaries their loved ones set are what saved their life – knowing that no one was going to bail them out of their latest crisis forced them to get help for their disease.

As long as someone is taking care of the addicted person, that person has no reason to go through the recovery process. They will often continue to use until they hit bottom. The saying in recovery circles is that you want to see people get to their bottom as quickly as they can so they will reach out for help. Enabling behaviors slow down and sometimes prevent recovery altogether.

Szalavitz, M., & Szalavitz, M. (n.d.). The Addiction Files: How Do We Define Recovery? | Retrieved 2015, from

Hartney, P. (n.d.). What Is Enabling (Addiction Terms)? Retrieved 2015, from


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