As addiction progresses it is likely that an afflicted person will experiencemore of the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual symptoms and consequences of the disease. It has been observed for some years now that family members and friends can also become involved in the disease process, and one of the ways this happens is by something called enabling.

Help Person, or Disease?

In everyday language, to enable means to help, to assist, to support. Those who care about or love addicts attempt to help, but they inadvertently end up helping the disease rather than the person. This happens because of their own denial, confusion, or lack of understanding. They might cover up, ignore symptoms, and even develop a series of defenses and symptoms themselves.


The involvement of others in the addictive disease process is as old as addiction itself, but it got particular attention in the 1970s and 1980s when an emphasis on chemical dependency as a family illness became prevalent. There was much study and writing on how family members, who became known as codependents, were affected. This has even mushroomed into an industry of its own today (see the module on Codependency).


Enablers now have available information and support groups, such as Al-Anon and Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA), that can be helpful and powerful. There are also groups for families and friends that involve other addictions, like gambling, overeating, or sex and love addiction.

How to Stop

To stop enabling requires a gentleness with yourself and an understanding that with addictive disease, you didn’t cause it, you can’t control it, and you can’t cure it. You can get support from others, learn to focus on yourself, and learn to be self-loving and self-caring.

Enabling, see also: Abuse, Adolescents, Al-Anon & Alateen, Behavior, Children of addicts, Codependency, Control, Detachment, Disease concept, Family, Incest, Intimacy, Prevention of addiction, Relationships, Sabotage of recovery, Self-image, Survival roles.

Updated 11 Sep 2015

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Addictionary 2 by Jan & Judy Wilson

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