It is difficult to be in a relationship with an addict and not get sucked into enabling behavior. When somebody you love is suffering with an illness or a disease you naturally want to help. As a result, loved ones often step in to save the addict from the devastating consequences of their actions.

Family members believe that they are doing the right things when they help to save the addict’s job, help him or her to stay out of jail, help to pay their overdue bills, or save them from whatever horrific thing is getting ready to happen. Unfortunately, this is not helping. Instead, it is making it easier for the addict to continue drinking or using drugs, because the consequences aren’t bad enough to convince him or her to stop.

So how do you make a change if you’ve been in the habit of enabling your loved one? It is difficult to make a complete turn around overnight. Change takes time. The first step is understanding which behaviors are actually enabling, and then work on turning those behaviors around.

Following are some examples of actions that fall under the category of enabling:

-You take on the addict’s responsibilities because they can’t seem to do them on their own. For example; you pay their overdue bills, clean their house, fill their car with gas, or buy them groceries.

-You tell lies for the addict, such as ‘calling in sick’ for them, when they are actually too hung over to work.

-You make excuses for the addict’s behavior. Perhaps they act out in public, and you make the excuse that the addict has been working a lot of hours, so their behavior is due to stress.

-You bail the addict out of jail.

-You finish a project that the addict failed to complete.
You clean up after the addict. Perhaps they throw a tantrum, throwing things around and breaking them, and you clean it up.

-You threaten to leave the addict, or kick the addict out if he or she uses again, but fail to follow through on your threats.

Are any of these behaviors familiar to you? Enabling behavior comes from the desire to help your loved one. Nobody wants to watch a person they love fall apart. When it comes to addiction, however, the more you protect the addict from the consequences of his or her actions, the stronger the addiction will become.

It is a difficult thing to let go and allow your loved one to face the consequences of their actions, especially since it can affect your well-being as much as theirs. You don’t want your life to become more stressful. You don’t want your spouse to lose his or her job. You don’t want to admit to family and friends how bad things have gotten. So you do everything in your power to keep the outside world from finding out.

Here is the tough reality: things need to start crumbling around your loved one in order for him or her to realize their need for help. As long as they are not forced to face the consequences or their actions, they will never see the need for help.

Stopping enabling behavior does not mean you stop caring. You can show compassion for the addict without their problems becoming yours. You can listen with a loving ear without taking on their responsibilities. You can offer guidance without belittling.

It is important to have a strong support system as you make these changes. One of the best forms of support available, for those involved with an addict, is Al-Anon. Through family support groups such as Al-Anon, you will find the guidance needed to make healthy changes in your family dynamic.

While common themes play out in most addictive households, every situation is unique. It is important to consult a qualified health-care professional for evaluation and advice. Addiction is a complicated disease, but when family members learn to take on new healthy behaviors, they really can make a difference in the recovery of their loved ones.

Author's Bio: 

Lisa Espich is the author of "Soaring Above Co-Addiction: Helping Your Loved One Get Clean, While Creating the Life of Your Dreams." She is a manager for a Fortune 500 company, and utilizes her fifteen years of experience as a professional trainer and coach to facilitate workshops based on the principles shared in her book. For a Free Guided Meditation download visit her website at