How To Avoid Enabling A Friend’s Addiction

Tim Sonnet

Medically reviewed by

Tim Sinnott, MFT

May 17, 2019

Article Contents

How To Avoid Enabling a Friend's Addiction

Article Contents

One of the most difficult parts of establishing and maintaining a friendship can be having to look out for each other during hard times. When a friend is facing a problem with substance abuse, finding the right way to support them can be confusing. Oftentimes, friends will try to help each other with substance abuse problems, but because of the personal connection between the two parties, providing that help in the healthiest way can be difficult, as the most obvious ways to ‘assist’ are often enabling behaviors. These enabling behaviors can be a detriment to the person facing substance abuse problems getting help through a drug addiction treatment program, and typically the enabling behaviors will stop before help is sought.

What Does It Mean To Be An Enabler?

The term “enable” means ‘to give someone the means to do something.’ When it comes to substance abuse and addiction, an enabler is a person who oftentimes unknowingly helps facilitate a friend or loved one’s addiction by removing any reason or incentive for the person facing addiction to change or attend a drug rehab center. Enablers do not usually directly support the addiction of their friend, and typically believe they are attempting to help the person dealing with addiction. However, their actions actually make it harder for the person facing substance abuse problems to see why they need to make a change and attend a drug addiction treatment program, as any consequences for their addiction are removed, along with the incentive for change.

Enabling does much more than just harm the person with substance abuse problems. In addition, the enabler is also suffering. This is because addiction and enabling have a way of snowballing. When the person facing addiction becomes more and more involved in their addiction, the enabler must go to greater lengths to help their friend. This can quickly jump from borrowing a few dollars and staying on the couch for a night to borrowing large amounts of money and needing a place to stay indefinitely. Over time, the enabler becomes increasingly responsible for the person facing addiction, losing their own independence.

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Identifying An Enabler

There are a number of ways to identify a person who is acting as an enabler.

  • Enablers will sometimes help make excuses for the addiction or keep the addiction a secret. They will cover up for the person dealing with addiction in the name of friendship instead of trying to convince their friend to get help at a drug addiction treatment center.
  • Enablers go to great lengths to avoid conflict with their friend dealing with addiction. This is sometimes the cause of enabling in the first place. In an effort to remain non-confrontational, the enabler actually ends up negating the negative repercussions of the addiction and removing any incentive for their friend to attend a drug rehab center.
  • Enablers give many chances. Because of their enabling behavior, enablers often do not know how to enforce boundaries and go through with consequences. This results in giving a friend many chances after they have caused a problem, instead of instigating negative consequences and encouraging them to attend a drug addiction treatment center.
  • Enablers are oftentimes the people who care the most about the person facing addiction. Because of this, they may like feeling needed by the person dealing with substance abuse problems.
  • In extreme cases, enablers may go so far as to take part in dangerous or otherwise risky behaviors with the person facing addiction.

Enabling Behaviors

  • Taking part in substance abuse with a friend. One of the most blatantly enabling behaviors is taking part in the substance abuse issues with a friend, for example smoking heroin with a friend in need of heroin addiction treatment. This not only causes a problem for the friend dealing with substance abuse problems, but it also takes away part of their support system. When beginning the journey to recovery a healthy, strong support system is vital.

Of course, taking heroin with someone who is addicted instead of trying to get them to attend heroin addiction treatment is a negative thing, even with substances that are legal for some people, like alcohol, drinking or using with a friend dealing with substance abuse issues is never a good idea. It sends the wrong message to the friend with substance abuse problems, making them think that their behavior is okay. Instead, similar to attending heroin addiction treatment, they need to attend an alcohol and drug addiction treatment center.

While it may seem as though having a drink together after work is just a time for two friends to bond, this action can be incredibly damaging to the friendship as well as to both parties involved.

  • Taking over a friend’s responsibilities and/or finances. While it may seem at first like doing a favor or two for a friend, one slippery slope is taking over a friend’s responsibilities while they are dealing with their own substance abuse problems. While it comes as no surprise that problems with addiction can result in people giving up some of their responsibilities, it is rarely mentioned that often in situations like this, the family or friends of the person facing addiction will take over some of their friend’s responsibilities. The specifics of the situation can change, but typically involve a friend taking over daily chores, work and even maintaining relationships with the family or children of the friend dealing with substance abuse. It is easy to feel like this behavior is helpful at first, but it is only harmful to everyone involved in the end.
  • Covering up for a friend. There are a number of reasons one may make excuses for a friend dealing with substance abuse problems. It may be out of frustration or embarrassment, but it may also be out of codependency. For instance, covering up for a friend so they don’t get in arguments with their family or other friends, or making excuses for more serious situations, like work or when dealing with law enforcement. Not only is it a bad idea for the person in need of a drug addiction treatment program, but it also risks hurting relationships with others.
  • One of the most common forms of enabling behavior is denial. While not outright supporting the addiction, denial allows a friend or loved one to remain steadfast in their addiction because there are no consequences for them. Acting as though there is not a problem does nothing but reinforce the friend’s denial that they do not have a substance abuse issue. There are many different ways to be in denial about a friend’s substance abuse. Blaming oneself for the addiction and ignoring the addiction altogether are both common forms of denial.
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How to Stop Enabling a Friend

  • Create boundaries: When it comes to ending enabling behavior, it is vital to create boundaries with the friend facing addiction. Being assertive and creating clear boundaries is a great first step towards ending enabling behavior, as it tells the person facing addiction exactly what the enabling behavior that will be stopping is and explaining the situation so both parties understand why a drug addiction treatment program is needed. The person who was previously engaging in enabling behaviors will have to be sure he or she is willing to stand firm with their boundaries. They must also expect a friend facing addiction problems to test the boundaries that are put in place. If when tested, boundaries are not held firm, the incentive to get help for the addiction at a drug rehab treatment center once again dissipates.
  • Do not give in to threats: When it comes to ending enabling behavior, it is likely the ex-enabler will face various threats from the person relying on them. Addiction is a disease that sometimes makes people try to manipulate situations in their favor. Threats are another attempt at manipulation. When enabling behavior stops, the friend dealing with a substance abuse problem will likely begin to panic. In an effort to get enabling behaviors to resume, they will do whatever it takes, including various threats. Again, it is important not to give in to these threats as this gives the person dealing with addiction what they want: access to the substance to which they are addicted. Threats generally are not carried out, and standing firm shows the friend facing addiction the ex-enabler is serious.
  • Do not allow one’s own well-being to suffer: At the end of the day, the person who is dealing with addiction will need a strong support system in order to increase their chances at becoming and remaining sober. By allowing one’s own well-being to suffer in an effort to enable a friend, an enabler is doing a detriment to both of them. While it may seem selfish to think of anyone before a friend dealing with substance abuse addiction, the best support system is one that is healthy themselves. Practicing various forms of self-care can help keep up on personal well-being. In addition, mindfulness practices and can help a person’s mental state through tumultuous times.
  • Expect unreliability from the friend facing addiction: When it comes to getting sober and maintaining sobriety, the road is anything but a straight line. Because of this, it is important not to expect much reliability from a friend who is going through recovery. In addition, once previous enabling behaviors are stopped, it is likely the friend’s behavior may become even more erratic. This is to be expected with someone trying to navigate recovery or still actively facing addiction. The person may begin to act aggressively or angrily, as they are unsure what to do now that they are no longer being enabled. They likely also feel betrayal, which may cause more erratic behavior before the situation improves in the end.
  • Do not fear possible outcomes: When ending enabling behavior, it is natural to think of the future and the relationship between the two parties. While at the time things may seem to only be going downhill, it is vital not to assume the friendship will be ruined. This type of thinking may discourage enablers from stopping their behavior.

It is also important not to worry about what will happen if the enabling behavior is stopped. While it may seem as though the friend will turn to worse options than being enabled, it is important to remember that it is easy to jump to the worst conclusions. In reality, enabling behavior does no good for the person facing addiction. Instead, they need to attend a drug rehab treatment center to get help for their addiction.

  • Get help: While of course, the end goal of avoiding enabling behavior is to maintain and even improve a friendship while the friend facing addiction attends a drug rehab treatment center, at first things may not improve. In spite of this, the ex-enabler needs to go on with their own life. The situation may have resulted in the ex-enabler needing their own help through various means including group and one on one therapy. Addiction is a disease that affects more than just the person dealing with the substance abuse problem. Loved ones and friends can also be greatly affected, and they need help of their own. It is just as vital that this help is received in order to help everyone involved.
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All in All

Having a friend who is dealing with a substance abuse issue can be exceedingly difficult. It is easy for natural concern and caring to turn into more unhealthy enabling behaviors as time progresses, which is detrimental to the health of both friends involved.

When it comes to having a friend with substance abuse issues, it is important to remember that drug addiction treatment programs like heroin addiction treatment are the answer. Drug rehab centers are specifically designed to help those dealing with substance abuse problems, and should always be the goal for someone dealing with addiction. Stopping enabling behavior, putting in place firm boundaries, and encouraging the attendance of a drug rehab treatment center are all pivotal moves on getting a friend on their own journey to recovery.

This page does not provide medical advice.
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Tim Sonnet

Medically reviewed by

Tim Sinnott, MFT

May 17, 2019

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