Enabling – a meaningful definition

Definition of an Enabler

An enabler is someone who promotes a specific type of behaviour in another person. The term is most often associated with people who allow loved ones to behave in ways that are destructive, but can also be used in a positive sense, as in the case of empowerment. People act as negative enablers for many reasons, ranging from childhood dysfunction to fear, so there are many types of enabling. All of them generally have negative effects both on the enabler and on the person he or she is enabling. It is possible to overcome this type of situation, though counselling or professional help may be needed.

Types of Enabling

Enabling can take many forms, but most of them come down to protecting someone from the consequences of his or her poor choices. For instance, parents might bail a child out of jail repeatedly because they don’t want the child to be locked up, or they might write notes asking a school to excuse a child’s truancy or tardiness due to hangovers because they don’t want his or her academic record to suffer. In the case of spouses, this might take the form of a husband calling in sick for his wife who is too ill from drug use to go to work, or lying to friends about why he and his alcoholic wife don’t attend parties, when the real reason is that he’s too afraid that his wife will get drunk and embarrass herself.

The following 10 points are ways that you can stop enabling the addict in your life, recover your sense of control, and hopefully stall the person you love’s descent into disaster.

  1. Stop providing money that allows an addict to gamble, purchase drugs, alcohol, or participate in any other addictive behaviour. Think of giving money as basically giving an addict drugs or a problem gambler, permission to gamble.
  2. Do not pay bills, fines, rent, or food expenses. Saying No is your prerogative and without feeling the impact of being unable to cover these costs, no true hardship is experienced and consequences are avoided.
  3. Avoid repaying loans the addict has accrued or providing money to pay back ‘friends’ they have borrowed money from. Again, an addict needs to experience the discomfort when those monies are requested from them repeatedly.
  4. Do not lie, cover up or trivialize the facts about an addict’s actions or behaviour. That’s not to say that you need to shout out to the world the situation your loved one is in but if someone genuinely enquires give them the truth without sharing all the finer details.
  5. Stop making excuses for an addict or helping them by calling in sick or apologizing for them not attending events or appointments. When you make it easier for them to check out of their ‘normal’ life, you make it easier for them to fall into the shadows of addiction.
  6. Do not do anything for an addict that they should be able to do for themselves when sober or clean. By taking responsibility for the tasks they should otherwise be able to do; you support them in taking advantage of you.
  7. Avoid joining an addict in their activities. This includes buying Lottery tickets if you have a partner who gambles or buying alcohol and drinking around an alcoholic. Let the person you love know by example that you do not support their choices.
  8. Do not lend, gift or give an addict items they can sell or pawn for money. Any item with even a minor value is easy cash for an addict. They can be incredibly resourceful in trading goods, for money.
  9. Set boundaries and stick to them. Do not make threats. Do not back down on your consequences. Doing so enables an addict to simply push harder when they meet resistance, knowing you will likely back down again.
  10. Be aware of codependent tendencies that cause you to want to rescue or save your addict. Codependency is defined as taking an excessively passive, caretaking or controlling role in your relationship with an addict. This is always detrimental to both their possible recovery and yours.


It takes time to become aware of the ways we enable the addict in our life but perhaps with the information in this list you can begin to remove the factors that are causing you, and your addict more harm than good.

And remember, what we do when we enable comes from a place of love, and all of our intentions at the time are good. Please don’t punish yourself or feel guilty for having done anything that may have contributed to the ongoing course of your loved ones addiction.

But DO begin to remove the safety nets that prevent the addict in your life from ever having to feel, recognize and face what they have become stuck in.

Only by doing so, can they have any chance of making the decision to free themselves.