How To Stop Enabling an Alcoholic or Addict

Learn the Difference Between Helping and Enabling

Son With Ailing Father
Could You Be Enabling?. © Getty Images

Many times while trying to help, friends and family members actually make the situation worse by enabling the alcoholic.

Enabling means doing things for the alcoholic that they normally could and would do for themselves if they were sober. Anything that you do that protects the alcoholic from the consequences of his or her actions, could be enabling him to delay a decision to get help for his problem.

Therefore, it's in the best interest of the alcoholic, in the long run, if you stop whatever you are doing to enable them.

Here's How:

Cease doing anything that allows the alcoholic to continue their current lifestyle.

Are you working and paying some of the bills that the alcoholic would be paying if he hadn't lost his job? Or are you providing the alcoholic food and shelter? If so, you could be enabling. You are providing him with a "safety net" that allows him to lose his job with no real consequences.

Do nothing to 'help' the alcoholic that he could or would be doing himself if he were not drinking.

If the alcoholic has lost his license, giving him a ride to an A.A. meeting or job interview is helping, because that is something he cannot do for himself. But, looking up the schedule of meetings in the area, researching the requirements for getting his license back, or searching the classified ads for employment opportunities are things that the alcoholic should be doing for himself.

Stop lying, covering up, or making excuses for the alcoholic.

Have you ever had this conversation: "Sorry, she can't come into work today, she's has picked up some kind of flu bug?" when in fact she is too hungover to go to work? That conversation is enabling because it is allowing the alcoholic to avoid the consequences of her actions.

You might say, "But, she could lose her job!" Losing her job might just be the thing that needs to happen for her decide to get help.

Do not take on responsibilities or duties that rightfully belong to the alcoholic.

Are you doing some of the chores around the house that the alcoholic used to do? Have you taken on parenting responsibilities with your children that the two of you used to share? If you are doing anything that the alcoholic would be doing if he or she was sober, you are in a way enabling them to avoid their responsibilities.

Do not give or loan the alcoholic money.

If you are providing money to the alcoholic for any reason, you might as well be going into the liquor store and buying his booze for him. And yes, buying booze for him is enabling. That's what you are ultimately doing if you give an alcoholic money, no matter what they say they plan to do with the cash.

Don't 'rescue' the alcoholic by bailing him out of jail or paying his fines.

Rushing in to rescue the alcoholic may satisfy some personal desire you have to feel "needed," but it doesn't really help the situation.

It only enables the alcoholic to avoid the consequences of his actions. In Al-Anon, they call it "putting pillows under them" so that they never feel the pain of their mistakes.

Do not scold, argue or plead with the alcoholic.

You may think that when you are scolding or berating the alcoholic for her latest episode, that it is anything but enabling, but it actually could be. If the only consequence that she suffers for her actions is a little "verbal spanking" from someone who cares about her, she can slide by without facing any significant consequences.

Do not react to his latest misadventures, so that he can respond to your reaction rather than his actions.

If you say or do something negative in response to the alcoholic's latest screw-up, then the alcoholic can react to your reaction. If you remain quiet, or if you go on with your life as if nothing has happened, then the alcoholic is left with nothing to respond to except their own actions. If you react negatively, you are giving them an emotional out.

Do not try to drink with the alcoholic.

Many family members, feeling abandoned by the alcoholic because of his love-affair with alcohol, have tried to become part of his world again by trying to drink with him. It rarely works. The alcoholic's relationship with alcohol is cunning, baffling and powerful. "Normal drinkers" can rarely keep up.

Set boundaries, don't make threats, and stick to them.

Saying, "If you don't quit drinking, I will leave!" is an ultimatum and a threat, but saying, "I will not have drinking in my home" is setting a boundary. You can't control whether someone quits drinking or not, but you can decide what kind of behavior you will accept or not accept in your life.

Carefully explain to the alcoholic the boundaries that you have set, and explain that the boundaries are for you, not for him.

One thing that members of Al-Anon learn is that they no longer have to accept unacceptable behavior in their lives. You may not be able to control the behavior of someone else, but you do have choices when it comes to what you find unacceptable. Setting boundaries is something that you do for your benefit, not to try to control someone else's behavior.


Many times when an alcoholic's enabling system is removed, the fear will force them to seek help, but there are no guarantees.

To learn more about enabling and the family disease of alcoholism, attend an Al-Anon meeting in your area.

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