Stop Enabling An Alcoholic

Why is it so important to stop helping a substance abuser? I fear that if I don’t help the alcoholic that they may follow through with threats of killing themselves.  I suppose that if I cut them off that I might lose them completely. The fear of lose seems to be the root of my problem or perhaps it is just fear that is the very heart of the issue.

A good friend of mine who has been helping people just like you and me for over thirty years told me that if I continued to enable the alcoholic, I was just  helping them to their grave.

That’s a tough one to swallow.

It was through interacting with her that I was able to glean from her vast wisdom on this subject of being an enabler.

What are some of the ways that we enable?

  • Covering bad checks, paying rent, loaning money or allowing them to free-load. Any amount of help we provide in the arena of finances could possibly be considered enabling.
  • Calling in sick for them because they are too inebriated or hungover  to do so themselves. I suppose this could be categorized as telling lies for the alcoholic.
  • Carting them around town to various appoints or work because their driver’s license was suspended.
  • Baby sitting for their children while they are out partying. This is a classic case of trying to protect the children from the effects of alcoholism in the family  and at the same time enabling an alcoholic to not take responsibility for their role as a mother or father.
  • Taking control of trying to fix what the alcoholic has messed up. This means we do things like bail them out of jail, hire attorneys for them with our money or pay for their car insurance premiums.  We basically have a tendency to try to  rescue them from harm’s way. We have a strong compulsion to fix what they have messed up.

There are probably a million reasons why we are compelled to do these various acts of kindness.

How can you know if a particular action could be considered enabling ?

While this can be a bit clouded at times, I find it helps to take a moment and inspect my motives.

(Questions From: The Courage To Change-Alanon literature,  pg, 5)
Am I trying to interfere with the natural consequences of a loved one’s choices?
Am I trying to do for someone what they could do for themselves?
Am I doing what  I  think is best for me?
Do I resent what I am doing? If so, is it really a choice?

I suppose one of the best things I could do is to let an alcoholic take full responsibility for their own behaviors. Perhaps this is the most compassionate thing to do, let them suffer the consequence of their poor choices and actions.

When we decide to stop being enablers our choices have nothing to do with how they will affect the alcoholic. They have everything to do with our emotional well-being. Making a decision to do things differently can be very empowering for us. The reason is because we are doing what we know is best for us, the next right thing. When we do make changes, it’s very possible that the alcoholic will drink even more to try to relieve the additional load they are carrying now.

We must let the alcoholics in our lives experience the consequences of their poor choices. When we allow things to happen naturally, perhaps, they may reach their bottom sooner than later.

Taking care of ourselves instead of the alcoholic, takes a little getting used to. It’s in our very nature to want to care of  people and fix their problems. In alcoholism support groups we are referred to as care-takers. We are good at fixing everything and everybody that is broken.

The one tip I can give you that is very powerful is that  the word  “NO”  is a complete sentence. To take it a step further, you do not have to explain why you said; “no” to the alcoholic in your life. In actual fact, when they ask you why, you can say something like: “because that’s my answer” and leave it at that.

Now, you better believe that you will be faced with an angry alcoholic. You can also count on the problem drinker trying to make you feel guilty. The alcoholic will try to blame you for all of their problems as well. That’s going to be OK because you are going to learn more about how to cope with an alcoholic in order to be equipped to handle the resistance.

When we stop enabling the entire world around us has to change. The alcoholic may not quit drinking, but we will feel a whole lot better about ourselves for doing the right thing.

Maybe our friend, spouse, co-worker or loved one will make a decision to quit drinking as a result of the changes we have made. It is something to hope for, but not something to expect.

17 comments to Stop Enabling An Alcoholic

  • Eve

    I really like this article. Especially about the concept of doing what I think is best for me. So much of my energy and my attention has gone to doing what’s best for them and catering to their every whim. Its enough. And yes I think its the fear that holds me back…what will happen if I stop catering to them and start doing something good for me? Well, one thing is for sure, if I do lose them then they probably weren’t the best person to have around me, I want people around me who actually want me to be well, not the opposite. And of course they blame me for their problems…don’t they all do that?

  • Michelle

    I have been praying for yrs on how to deal with an alcoholic husband. Not violent or abusive, but constantly drunk. He is very needy and does make accusations when I work out of town. I believe the message I received from God was the same as posted here. i am not responsible for, and I cannot fix the problem. I can make the choice to be happy. However, he is my husband, do I file for divorce or just exist in the same home. I do my own thing while at home but I would like to live a full life and feel trapped. I take my vows seriously and struggle with what to do. I often feel like I should report him driving under influence so he will go to jail and that will force him to get help. I guess that is just trying to control the situation. He is a professional who has lost almost all clients but does not get it. I pay all bills and do all chores. Advise welcome.

  • doubting

    I have been with my husband 10 years of his drunken misery he is mean and violent we moved and he totally went on a binge I asked him to leave worried for my safety how can i get through until he goes? he has been drinking for 4 days now and keeps coming to the new place ( we moved upstairs he is still in the old place downstairs) I just want to die I feel so bad I could not handle it anymore he is telling everyone I kicked him out with no where to go.why am I the bad one ? any advice would help please

  • AM

    I’ve been through a similar situation, and I understand how you feel. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter what he tells other people, or what other people think, as deep inside, you know the truth. Your truth. Believe it.

    There are other people in your area who have experienced similar situations as well. You can find them at an anonymous meeting, called Alanon. Visit this website to find a meeting in your area, and you will find emotional relief.

  • C

    Doubting: People don’t think you are the bad guy. All articles I have seen dealing with alcoholics tell us to leave – run. It only gets worse. Am sure anyone who knows the true story will be proud you wanted peace and a happy life.

  • Ross

    Michelle, I hope you’re able to get to al-anon meetings if you arent already.
    Also, I’ve had an intervention on my husband in 2007 and he went to treatment.If you
    consider it, please get a reputable company and someone who has alot of experience.Also, a quoted
    price is a very negotiable one.Never allow someone who isnt very experienced do it, or let someone
    do it when a time that your husband has been drinking.
    Much luck to you,

  • JC

    Doubting, I am so sorry to hear things are going rough for you. Could you please share a little more about how this came about, kicking him out?

  • karen

    Dear doubtful,

    The main article says it all.

    Get some backbone and take care of you and stop the enabling.

    Dosomething for you for a change and see how you feel about yourslef. It is a stuggle, but if you do something for you each and everyday, then you will see the gradual change in yourself.

    Obessing over the A person is our addiction and is so damaging. Just stop doing it.
    He/she is responsible for themselves and we have no control over that, but we can take control over our own lives and actions.

    Be strong,

  • Rachel

    I’m worried that if I stop trying to control his drinking he will just think that I’m fine with it all & he’ll just carry on. I’m absolutely not fine with it, I don’t even know if he even is an alcoholic as he does not drink during the day but will drink every evening. He has a full time job & always gets up for work, he loves me very much & has never done anything bad to me compared to what some people are going through from what I’ve been reading. I just don’t like his need to drink every evening, I would appreciate some thoughts please.

  • Debbi

    Doubting: If he is drinking every day, all day, trust me, others see it & know that you are not a bad person for moving. Mine only drank in evenings and only I got the insulting, malicious behavior–everyone else thought he was a great, caring person & I was the problem. It was so hard on me to separate & still his lies about me continue & he still harasses me & no one sees this. Others see what your A is doing to himself and to you. You did the right thing protecting your safety–it is your right – just as the right to be happy. Stay strong it will get better & perhaps Al Anon or a counselor can help you.

  • Ross

    Rachel….You cannot actually control anyone but yourself.It’s a deception to think you are controlling his disease.If his drinking is causing marital problems or financial problems, there is a possibility he is one.But you can look up the characteritcs of an alcoholic.My husband has a full time job and drinks every evening.I never could control his drinking.Many people try to control anothers drinking with no success.It will pull you down to persist.There are better ways to show them that you are not fine with their drinking.You can learn to set boundaries and other tools that work and are healthy in a support group.Please try Al-Anon, it will really help you.It’s there for us.You’ll realize everyone understands there.Good luck.

  • Ross

    Doubting… I’m sorry for what you are going through.Please consider Al-Anon, it can help in so many ways.
    You set a good boundary to protect yourself.It is common for the alcoholic to place blame on the spouse to avoid looking at the real problem.It’s the deception of his disease.If we allow ourselves to be conned, manipulated or pushed over by the disease’s tactic it not only will pull us down, but we are playing into the hands of his disease to enable it to continue longer.I have begun to imagine, that when I am talking to my alcohlic husband and when he is blaming me, diverting attention from his drinking to me, trying to manipulate,that I am talking to a black cloud surrounding him(his disease).I imagine the disease is talking and I dont need to give it what it wants.I can set a boundary, regardless, its reaction.I learned in AL-ANON that if I am doing something healthy for me it is good for him.Whether he realizes/acknowledges it.It isnt a game of winning for me.It is what I need to do, to minimize the damages done to me for being in a relationship with an alcoholic.It also keeps me accountable to learn better skills myself so that I dont feed his disease, feed low self esteem-instead of building my self-esteem.If I get well, I have a better influence on him.Yet I do this for me because I’m tired of suffering more than I need to.
    I wish you the best of luck.If you havent tried al-anon please do.If you could figure out how to fix him, you would have by now.You need tools that work.

  • Ross


  • Karen

    Hi Rachel read your post from April 8th . I’m in the same situation with the chap who drinks every evening, very hard worker, however he’s moved out and my life is been so much easier. I struggled with him coming home late from work drinking with friends at the pool hall or pub (they are half his age and live with their parents so they have no responsibilities or commitments), late dinners fallen asleep on the couch not remembering anything I say. Outbursts totally changing in personality when he has stress. Needing me to do so much for him cook clean, and because he spends so much on drinking there is never enough to treat me. It’s been a few months now that we have not lived together and my life is so different, I have saved money to go away and I don’t feel like I’m going crazy, because he’d always say I didn’t say that. . He would make so many promises, than friends or other priorities takeover, I was only a priority when he needed something. He still askes me to help out with things, and because I love them I cannot say no, but I’m doing it gently on my terms. I feel so much better not living with the rage and the split personality. It’s so nice to remember what normal feels like and I’m scared I’m gonna get back into it because I miss the nice guy in him.

  • Sue

    I have read many posts and recognise parts of my life in them all. I have been applying much good advice and working on buildings self esteem and detaching from his drinking. It is still hard. I am watching a man who I fell in love with 20 + years ago disappear and decay. I have tried leaving on more than one occasion but my concern for him brought me back. I wonder whether this particular part of my story is unique: my alcoholic keeps a tight rein on his/our finances. He never asks me to pay for his drinking or smoking and he paid the mortgage off when he was made redundant on a house that was his before I moved in. I can hardly believe what I have allowed to happen to me over the years – I once had my own home and met him when I was going through a divorce. My home did have some equity but once sold and living with A my money has gradually disappeared as I have paid for all sorts of things. Yet when in abusive mode I am told ” you have never paid rent and I have looked after you.’ He had turned me into a dependent and I am working hard to survive and turn things around. Advice welcome.

  • […] There’s nothing we can do to stop a problem from spending every dime they own. We can, however, protect ourselves from being taken advantage of by them through not giving them any money. We need to see the reality of the situation, set boundaries and let them suffer the consequences of their own miss guided decisions. When we cut them off from our help and let the suffer the consequences of spending all their money we stop enabling the alcoholic. […]

  • […] due to their irresponsible behavior, be their responsibility to deal with. What ever the cost quit  enabling an alcoholic by softening the results of their poor […]

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