Are you an enabler?

Musicians' Assistance Program

Volume 112, No. 10October, 2012

Cindy Green, LCSW

The office of the Musicians’ Assistance Program is your one-stop shop for musicians’ health. We offer counseling – both one-on-one and in groups – as well as information on all kinds of social services, including health insurance, housing, food stamps and more. All services are free to Local 802 members. Contact us at or (212) 397-4802

The chances are good that you know someone who has or had a problem with drugs and alcohol. It’s a common problem and it does not discriminate based on age, race, religion or financial status. It can be an extremely difficult issue to address – much more complicated than simply telling someone to stop.

Substance abuse does not happen in isolation. Most of the time, there are aspects of an addict’s life that allow their habit. Without addressing these issues, it is unlikely that an addict’s behavior will change.

You’ve probably heard the term
“enabler.” To enable someone’s substance abuse is to act in a way that allows him or her to avoid the uncomfortable consequences of their actions.

The trap is that enabling often feels like helping – but is actually the opposite. Enabling allows addicts to continue to deny that they have a problem, thereby avoiding the difficult process of making healthy changes.

People who enable are often close to the struggling addict, like spouses, siblings, parents or adult children. They do everything in their power to make life easier for their loved ones in the hopes that they will stop using. They say that they are concerned about safety. They make excuses or look the other way to avoid upsetting anyone.

Although it feels like helping, making an addict’s life easier does little to encourage them to stop the substance abuse. (Additionally, it makes enablers twist their own lives around, often creating problems of their own, to accommodate the addiction.)

This can play out in any number of ways.

  • Enablers may loan money to those they care about to avoid the unpleasant results of unpaid bills.

  • Enablers often lie for alcoholics or drug users.

  • Enablers often minimize the effects of the drug or alcohol use to keep reputations safe.

  • Enablers take care of the messes struggling addicts make so that no one else will see them or have to clean them up.

The first step to stop enabling a loved one’s unhealthy behavior is by recognizing what you are doing. Think of their drug and alcohol use and its consequences. It’s often unclear when you are enabling rather than helping, but consider the following:

  • Do you repeatedly bail your loved ones out of problems they have created?

  • Do you continue to give the same person “one more chance” to get better?

  • Do you ignore or avoid recurring problems?

  • Do you encourage them to continue to blame others for their problems?

  • Do you avoid conflict with those you care about, believing that an argument will only make it worse?

If you have answered “yes” to any of these questions, you are likely enabling your loved one to continue their unhealthy behavior.

If you change what you are doing, they will change what they are doing. Stop making excuses and refuse to continue to lie for them. Stop paying their bills, let them go into collections. Discuss your concerns and worries with them in a non-blaming way, focusing on the consequences of their behavior.

Certainly these steps are easier said than done. That’s why it’s most important to get support around the changes you want to see.

By reaching out, you will increase the chances of creating healthy changes in the lives of everyone involved.

Where do you get help? You’ve probably heard of Alcoholics Anonymous, but are you aware of another organization called Al-Anon? Al-Anon meetings are for relatives and friends of addicts. Together, they share their experiences and work in order to explore the problems of addiction and find solutions. You can find a local meeting at For teens struggling with addictions in their families, Alateen is available to provide support. Meetings can be found on the same Web site.

The MAP office is always available for you and your family members to help look at your concerns and how you might be helping or hindering healthier behavior and relationships. Don’t hesitate to call at (212) 397-4802 or send an e-mail to