How Your Family Enables Addiction Through Codependent Actions

Understand What Enabling Is

Ideally, the family unit stands by one another, protects each member, and insulates its members from the outside world. This gives the individual members the strength and support they need to face daily stressors and obstacles.

Families can be blind to the warning signs that one of their own has fallen prey to an addictive substance or activity. They make excuses or just look the other way instead of seeking intervention help. Professionals refer to these choices as enabling behavior, such choices that actually help suffering individuals remain trapped in their addictive spirals.

How Enabling Affects A Family

Families expect to take care of each other and provide help when problems arise. When the help crosses into removing responsibilities from stricken individuals that should be manageable, the aid becomes an enabling action.

For example, in a normal relationship without any addictive behaviors present, a couple may split the chore list. They rotate who does what chore from day to day or split them up between the two people. If a lot of work suddenly falls on one member, the other may voluntarily take up some of the chore work in an attempt to help the other member cope with the extra load. This is inherently temporary, with the chore load shifting back to normal after the short-term stressor passes.

In an unhealthy situation, one where addictive substances or behaviors have taken over, one family member may step up to complete a chore to cover for the afflicted member’s sudden inability to do the job. By doing this, the family member enables the stricken individual to avoid responsibility. The helping individual may have good intentions or just wants the chore to be done; however, in doing what he or she has chosen to do, the person gives license to the afflicted family member’s continued actions rather than helping with the problem.

Recognize Enabling Signs

Understanding what enabling is and recognizing if it’s being done are two very different things. It’s especially hard to see the behavior in yourself or those close to you. It’s important to learn how to spot signs of enabling behavior. Here is a list of some enabling traits:


Most enabling parents resort to denying anything is wrong first. They don’t want to admit their child has fallen prey to addictive behavior. They pretend this reality doesn’t exist and trick themselves into believing no help is needed.


Beyond denying the problem exists, parents will explain the behavior away. They make up reasons for what has happened, justifying the choices their child makes. They trick themselves into thinking it’s okay for someone to cope with a substance or behavior that has clearly entrapped their loved one.


Some parents just look the other way, ignoring that anything is going on. They choose to keep the peace rather than confront the problem. Maintaining appearances takes precedence over getting help.

Identify Codependent Behaviors 

Codependency compromises an individual’s capacity to have a normal connection with someone else. It’s prevalent in dysfunctional families, including those where one member suffers from an addictive behavior. Codependent people person put their needs aside, weakening health and their personal welfare in an attempt to care for the afflicted member.

Families and parents need to be on the look-out for this kind of behavior, as it leads to hardship for the entire family, codependent parent(s), and the child suffering from an addictive behavior. Here are some symptoms of codependency to watch for:

Denial Patterns 

A codependent person in denial will be unable to differentiate his or her own feelings from the afflicted member. Codependents generally refuse to even bring up their own feelings, choosing to put them aside in favor of caring for the other person. They believe they are doing the right thing, are completely dedicated to caring for others, and that they are fine without help from other people.

Low Self-Esteem Patterns

A codependent person with self-esteem problems may be unable to make hard choices, experience feelings of inadequacy, and treat praise or recognition with embarrassment. Codependents will place more value on the approval of others and will view themselves as unworthy of love.

Compliance Patterns

The compliant codependent person compromises their own morals and values to dodge conflict or escape rejection. They will remain in a dangerous relationship because of undying loyalty, putting aside their own best interests to make another happy.

Control Patterns 

Controlling people tend to operate on the premise that other people are incapable of caring for themselves. They control what other people think or feel, give advice when not asked, and get angry when they are not listened to. Though they see this behavior as helpful to another, it generally makes them feel more in control of their own lives.

Avoidance Patterns 

Codependents often try to avoid dealing with painful issues. They prefer helping those suffering from addiction cope with daily life than admitting there’s a problem. They may focus so much on the needs of their loved one that it becomes its own addiction.

Coping With Codependence 

Codependents usually act out of good intentions, but they often let the act of helping take over. They avoid effective help methodologies in favor of keeping peace, maintaining an image, or fulfilling their own needs. These actions can drive those people suffering from addiction further down the road, worsening his or her dependence on these destructive habits or substances.

To help, concerned parents need to identify how their actions may be making the situation worse. Many tools exist to help individuals identify codependent behaviors, including online self-assessment tools for codependency and outside organizations. Take the steps today to make sure your family is doing all that it can to help your loved one on his or her road to recovery.

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1 Comment

  1. The example you gave really helped me fully understand what “enabling” a family member really means.

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