• Staff Writer

How to Stop Enabling an Alcoholic

Updated: Feb 2

When you have a loved one that is suffering from drug or alcohol addiction in your life, your first instinct is probably to help them to get better. Your intentions are good, but many times those intentions come out all wrong. That is when helping turns into enabling.

When you're enabling a person that is battling alcoholism, you are doing things for them that they only can't do because of their drinking. You may also protect them from the consequences linked to their drinking. This seems like helping because you don't want them to get into trouble, lose their job, or something worse, but it actually promotes their alcohol abuse.

Helping Versus Enabling

The difference between helping and enabling can be difficult to pin down. Enabling would be giving them money because they can't work due to their alcoholism. But helping them would be driving them to an AA meeting or doctor's appointment.

Enabling isn't usually a one-time thing. It becomes a habit, and the loved ones of an alcoholic typically fall into a pattern of enabling.

Rather than supporting someone in getting sober, some actions actually worsen the addiction. If you try to help someone addicted to alcohol by offering them money, so they don't go through withdrawals and miss work, that is enabling.

If you call out sick for them, do their laundry, or take care of other household chores they would be able to handle if it weren't for the addiction, that is enabling.

The line that separates enabling and helping is thin. It can be hard to know exactly what you're doing and if you're helping your loved one.

The Dangers of Enabling

Research shows that partner responses to drinking may either facilitate or hinder treatment acceptance and recovery efforts. A partner's behavior and response to their loved one's drinking can significantly impact their addiction.

It is common for partners to take over chores from a person suffering from alcoholism, drink or use other drugs with them, and lie or make excuses to cover for the drinker. These reactions to a partner's drinking only encourage the addiction because it lessens their accountability and makes life easier for them.

When you decide to do these things, it sends the individual that is suffering from addiction a message that their drinking isn't a problem and they aren't encouraged to seek treatment.

How to Stop Enabling Loved Ones

To stop enabling a loved one that suffers from a substance use disorder (SUD), you need to acknowledge what you're doing. What things are you doing that enable their drinking? Do you pay their bills? Do you drink with them? Do you lie for them?

From there, you can stop those behaviors by setting boundaries. It can feel like a lack of love to not help a friend or family member in need but think about the consequences. You don't want them to suffer or lose their home or job, but helping them only lets them continue to abuse alcohol because they know you'll catch them when they fall.

Letting them take control and responsibility for their actions requires a lot of willpower. Sometimes you need to be able to let them suffer to realize they need help. If you keep picking them up when they fall, they'll never learn to do it on their own.

Once you understand this, you can take further steps to ensure you are not enabling an alcoholic.

#1. Let them know your new stance.

Let your loved one know what your boundaries are. Tell them you will no longer be paying their rent, bailing them out, or helping them face the consequences of their drinking. Make it clear to them that they cannot count on you to enable their addiction.

You cannot control their behavior, but you can choose whether you let it get to you or not. The stress you feel due to their addiction is not healthy for you. Setting these limits and letting them know that they need to face their own problems is necessary.

#2. Go to Al-Anon meetings.

Al-Anon is a support group for loved ones of alcoholics. This is a meeting for you to join peers and feel better within yourself. Going to Al-Anon reminds you that you are not alone. You have support.

Do not expect to learn how to get your loved one clean and sober, but do expect support for your own woes that come with loving an alcoholic.

#3. Stick to your boundaries.

It is one thing to let an alcoholic know you will no longer support their addiction. It is another thing completely to live up to that. Seeing them hurting or in need hurts you. It is normal to feel bad and want to help, but sticking to your word will help them in the long run.

Swooping in and saving the day will only continue encouraging their alcoholism.

#4. Work with a therapist.

Whether you choose to go to therapy alone or with your family or loved one, this will give you the guidance you need. Seeking the help of a professional can push you in the right direction so you can put your mental health first.

#5. Encourage treatment.

Encourage loved ones to seek treatment. Have open and honest conversations about addiction. Talk to them when they are sober, if possible.

#6. Let go.

To stop enabling a person, you need to let go and release yourself from the guilt you might carry about their addiction and the consequences. Seeking treatment needs to be up to them. You need to let go.

It can feel impossible to love someone and let them fall, but it is often necessary.

Enabling behavior is not a small aspect of a person battling addiction's life. Enabling someone's drinking can encourage alcohol abuse. You want to help them. That is normal when you see a loved one struggling with addiction, but finding a way to help that doesn't enable their drinking is vital to their health and hopeful recovery. Familiarity with enabling behaviors will help prevent you from repeating them and creating a pattern. Shutting down your financial aid or protection requires your loved one to face their addiction head-on along with all the consequences. When they must take accountability for their actions, they may realize that their alcoholism is hurting them. The best thing you can do is encourage them to seek treatment, let them know you'll support them when they do, and let go. For more guidance on preventing enabling behaviors, reach out to California Care Detox & Treatment. Call us at (949) 281-0632.

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