Addiction – Part Three: Enabling & Codependency

I’m going to be completely honest; I am incredibly outspoken and passionate about this topic. So, it is difficult for me to write this portion from an unbiased and factual viewpoint. I will, however, do my best to stay informative in this post and save my opinions for the more personal side in 5th and final part of the addiction series.

 By shedding light on these issues, I hope not only to bring awareness,but to empower and encourage anyone suffering through this to make a much needed change.

Let’s dive in.

Enabling vs. Codependency - Are they the same thing?

Enabling, simply put, is giving someone or something the authority to do something. Without context, enabling just sounds like a synonym for helping. However, if we add context by including the words “an addict” after enabling, we see a clear distinction between the two words.

While enabling might feel like helping, it actually does more harm than good. An enabler shields the addict from experiencing the full impact and consequences of their behavior, allowing them to continue to be irresponsible.

Codependency occurs when another individual (usually a spouse or family member) is controlled by the addict’s addictive behavior. A person usually becomes codependent because they have been led to believe love, acceptance, security, and approval are contingent upon their ability to take care of the addict. A codependent person finds their identity and self worth in their need to be needed.

While Enabling and Codependency go hand in hand, the two terms are not interchangeable. Though it’s less likely, it is possible to enable an addict without being codependent. Codependency, on the other hand, is so much more than enabling a person.

Enabling Behaviors

An enabler starts out with a well-intentioned desire to help, but in later stages of addiction, they act out of fear or desperation. Addicts will generally use suffering or anger as a manipulation tactic to pressure someone to meet their needs.

Some common enabling behaviors include:

  •  Taking on the addicts responsibilities. Such as: paying their bills, taking care of their children, filling their car with gas, buying them food, etc…
  • Lying or covering for the addict
  • Making excuses for the addict’s behavior
  •  Giving money to an addict
  •  Bailing the addict out of trouble
  • Blaming someone or something other than the addict for their addiction and behavior (friends, spouse, employer, broken home, loneliness, mental illness)
  •  Making inconsistent or empty threats to discontinue the help
  • Attempting to control everything in the addicts life (friends, activities, plans, jobs, finances, phone use, etc…)
 Evidence has shown that someone who experiences negative consequences as a result of their actions has the most powerful incentive to change. In recovery programs, they refer to this as when an addict “hits bottom”.

Since enablers try to prevent and or/remove an addict from experiencing negative consequences, they are ultimatley taking away any incentive to change. Without the desire to change, the addict will continue to use which may eventually be detrimental to their health or lead to their death.

How do I stop enabling?


It’s not easy to stop enabling someone. You may fear push-back, retaliation, or the consequences of doing nothing. This is where it is vital for you to decide between short-term pain vs. long-term misery. While it may be hard at first, learning to stop enabling an addict is very empowering. You will begin to understand that though you can’t change other people, you can change your reactions and behaviors towards those people.

Set Boundaries

Boundaries are also sometimes described as “tough love”. The term tough love is often misconstrued as harsh or a punishment but it’s entirely the opposite. Love without boundaries isn’t love at all. To set boundaries with someone you love may be difficult but it’s necessary in order to help not only yourself but the person you love. 

To think that truly loving someone means we must accept their destructive and abusive behavior is dysfunctional and demonstrates a lack of love for self. If we don’t know how to properly love ourselves, then we cannot truly love another person in a healthy way. Setting boundaries shows we honor, and respect ourselves and have the same expectations of those we love.

Dr. Henry Cloud& Dr. John Townsend wrote an incredible book titled, Boundaries. It is an excellent resource for loved ones of addicts, though I highly recommend everyone reads this book in their lifetime.


Letting go is hard. One of the reasons friends and family members may knowingly let their loved one take advantage of them is because that means the person is at least still a part of their life. However hard it may be, sometimes the best thing is to step away and cut ties with the addict. 

When you have tirelessly tried to support them, begged, pleaded, and prayed that they would get sober, but they continue to use despite your best efforts, your only remaining option may be to cut them off entirely. Sometimes detaching is the motivating key for some addicts to seek help.   However, it’s important to understand there is nothing you can do to convince an addict to use or not. 

Letting go doesn’t mean you stopped loving them , and it doesn’t have to mean “goodbye forever”. You can still leave an opening if you want to by letting them know you love them and will be there when they’re ready to recover. It’s important to follow through on the things you say. Don’t return until you’ve seen a genuine change in their behavior.


Support Recovery Efforts

Supporting recovery doesn’t mean that as soon as an addict says they “want to get sober” or they are “going to get sober” you let them back in and begin supporting them. Understand that someone struggling with an active addiction may use this as a manipulation tactic to get you to continue to enable them.

Being supportive in their recovery means that you will be encouraging once the addict begins the recovery process.  Continue supporting their participation in ongoing care, meetings and recovery support groups. 

 Take Responsibility

Understand it is not your responsibility to provide for, do for, or cover for the addict. In order to remove the responsibility from yourself, discontinue doing things like:

  •  Paying their bills, running their errands, doing their chores, taking care of their dependents
  •  Giving them money
  • Lying for them or making excuses
  •  Saving them from legal consequences


In 1988, Dr. Timmen Cermak, classified Codependency as a chronic and progressive disease of “lost-selfhood” with recognizable and treatable symptoms. Without intervention and treatment, symptoms worsen over time.

It is believed codependency begins in childhood due to a dysfunctional family environment. It begins to become identifiable in adulthood and becomes manifests as an unhealthy dependence on another person person in a close relationship. This causes loss of self-focus and self-care.

“Codependency can be defined as any relationship in which two people become so invested in each other that they can’t function independently anymore,” says Jonathan Becker, DO, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Your mood, happiness, and identity are defined by the other person. In a codependent relationship, there is usually one person who is more passive and can’t make decisions for themselves, and a more dominant personality who gets some reward and satisfaction from controlling the other person and making decisions about how they will live.”

Signs of Codependency
  •  Enabling others
  • Having an overdeveloped sense of responsibility for others
  • Valuing the approval of others more than valuing self
  • Lack of trust
  • Focusing on other people and their problems (care taking, advice giving, fixing) doing for others even when it negatively impacts own mental health, physical health, finances, etc.
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Willing to do whatever it takes to hold on to a relationship due to the fear of abandonment
  •  Difficulty identifying your feelings
  • Difficulty making decisions in the relationship
  • Lacks personal boundaries
  • Obsessive need for approval
  • Takes care of everyone else, gives without receiving, but then feels angry and resentful and taken advantage of
  • Can be controlling, critical of others and nagging
  • Feeling victimized by the selfishness of others
  • Feeling empty when not involved in a crisis
 If you identify with some or several of these symptoms; I encourage you to consider having a diagnostic evaluation with a licensed professional.
Overcoming Codependency
 Any caretaking behavior that allows or enables abuse to continue in the family needs to be recognized and stopped. Once codependency is recognized, it can be successfully treated.
Because codependency is generally rooted in child hood, a deep sense of unworthiness and is associated to the need for external validation, treatment involves exploration childhood issues and their relationship to current destructive behavior patterns. Treatment also focuses on helping patients getting in touch with feelings that have been buried during childhood and on reconstructing family dynamics. The goal is to allow them to experience their full range of feelings again.   
As you heal, you will begin to learn that the only validation you ever needed was your own.

Be sure to keep an eye out for Part 4 of the Addiction Series where we will dive into the recovery process.

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