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Changing An Enabling Relationship

By January 7, 2019 June 15th, 2023 No Comments
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Our last blog discussed some of the common features of enabling relationships. These are co-dependent relationships between an addicted person and someone who is trying to support them. However, the wrong kind of support can ultimately have negative effects on both parties. If the addicted person does not have to deal with the true consequences of their behaviour they will be less likely to change it. The enabling person may also find that their life increasingly revolves around providing support for the addicted person. This blog discusses some of the ways in which you can alter enabling behaviour and change your relationship with an addicted person in a progressive manner that will benefit you both.

Prioritise Long-Term Gains

Most of us are prone to prioritising short-term gains ahead of long-term ones. However, when dealing with an addicted person, this can easily result in enabling behaviour. You may avoid addressing their behaviour because you are worried they will become angry or upset. This enables them to continue it. If you try to get them out of a difficult situation by providing them with an excuse or with money, this also prevents them from facing the consequences of their actions. It is important to think carefully and consistently about short-term versus long-term gains, both for you and the addicted person. Confronting problems may be very unpleasant in the short-term, but ultimately, it will benefit both you and the addicted person.

Get Back Autonomy

If you are in an enabling relationship with an addicted person, your life may become based around their needs. This is detrimental to both you and the addicted person and should be addressed immediately. You must maintain autonomy in your own life. Continue to look after yourself and pursuing activities that you enjoy and find fulfilling. You may also have neglected others as a result of your commitment to the addicted person. Regaining autonomy in your life will allow you to change this.

If you have made plans with the addicted person and they pull out, go ahead with the activity regardless. If they need your help sorting out a problem or getting somewhere but you have another commitment, fulfill the original commitment. This can be extremely difficult to do, and the more co-dependant the relationship has become the more difficult to change it will be. However, ultimately, maintaining your own autonomy and rejecting enabling behaviour will benefit both you and the addicted person.

Leave Messes As They Are

When an addicted person creates a negative situation, you should not sort it out for them. For example, if they make a mess while intoxicated, you should not clean it up for them. If they owe someone money, you should not pay it for them. If they damage their relationship with someone, you should leave them to repair it. You should not make excuses for them or try to sort it out yourself. An addicted person will be much more likely to confront their problems and seek help if they must continually face the consequences of their addictive behaviour.

Avoid Dangerous Situations

You should never allow an addicted person to put you, themselves or others in a situation that may be dangerous due to their addictive behaviour. For example, you should absolutely never allow someone to drive if you suspect they have been drinking or using drugs. Similarly, you should not allow them to supervise children if you are concerned that they may be under the influence. You should try to prevent them from attending work if they are drunk, high or hungover. Enabling behaviour can sometimes present immediate and serious dangers. You must be firm and resolute in dealing with this potential danger and helping all concerned to avoid it.

Do Not Provide Money or Accommodation

If you are involved in an enabling relationship with an addicted person, you may feel compelled to support them by assisting them financially or providing them with accommodation. This is an extremely understandable impulse. You may feel that the person will be endangered if you do not provide this support. However, ultimately this will not help them. It will enable them to continue their behaviour without truly facing the consequences. They may therefore remain in denial about their problems or believe that they will not have to change their behaviour as it will not result in serious problems. It is sometimes necessary to be resolute and even ruthless in order to truly help the people we care about. Allowing them to face the full consequences of their actions will ultimately help an addicted person to confront their problems and seek help.

Avoid Triggering Situations

Addicted people will often find themselves in situations that may be challenging or triggering, even if they attempt to avoid them. Alcohol and substances are present at many social events and can be unavoidable. However, refusing to drink or use with the person and refusing to socialise with the addicted person in situations that will involve alcohol or substances might help them to see that their behaviour when under the influence is a serious issue. It will also help you to avoid becoming complicit in or enabling of their addictive behaviours.

Encourage Sobriety

Offering to continue socialising with the person by engaging in activities that do not involve alcohol or drugs is a good way of encouraging their sobriety. It also allows you to maintain a relationship with them but to change the nature of the relationship. This makes the relationship less enabling and ultimately more beneficial for both parties. You will also avoid the emotional and social problems of dealing with the person while they are under the influence. Making the offer also leaves the situation in their hands. It asks them to consider the relationship and the role that their addictive behaviour plays in it.

Boundaries and Consequences

Setting boundaries in your relationship with the addicted person will help to change the enabling nature of the relationship. Let them know that they cannot call on you every time they need support or assistance. State that you will no longer drop everything to attend to their needs. This can be very difficult but will ultimately benefit you both.

Establishing consequences for continued addictive behaviour can also help you to change the relationship. For example, telling them that if they continue their behaviour they can no longer live with you or rely on your financial support may lead them to truly consider the nature of their behaviour and your relationship. Once you have established these boundaries and consequences, it is essential that you remain committed to them and follow through. This can be very difficult. However, if you do not follow through, any commitments you make in the future will not be taken as seriously. You can also assure the person that you will be ready to support them once they seek help.

Attend Meetings

If someone close to you is struggling with addiction, you can consider attending meetings for family members or friends of addicted people, such as Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, or other support groups. This will provide you with useful information and support from others in similar situations. If you are attempting to change your enabling behaviour, these groups can also offer you advice and assurance that you are doing the right thing.


When someone we are close to is struggling with addiction, it is easy to neglect our own welfare. However, looking after your own physical and mental health is extremely important. It will benefit you and all of those around you. If you continually put another person and their addiction problems ahead of you own welfare, you are likely to become physically and emotionally worn down and to let other aspects of your life get out of control.

As difficult as it may be, prioritising your own needs will help you to reduce your enabling behaviour. It will help you to improve your wellbeing. Attending counselling or support groups may help you to commit to changing your priorities. It can also help you to understand the nature of your relationship with the addicted person and any underlying issues within it. Making sure to take enough time for yourself to decompress will also help you to support those close to you in a constructive manner.


If you are concerned that you may be in an enabling relationship with an addicted person, consider some of these methods for changing the relationship in a progressive manner. As difficult as this may be, it will benefit everyone involved. If you have any questions or concerns about addiction or addiction treatment, contact Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Centres today.

Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Centres

Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Centres

We offer residential and outpatient rehab treatment programs for addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders.

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