Am I Enabling My Family Member’s Alcohol Abuse?

When a loved one is struggling with alcohol abuse, a family member often does not know where to begin to help. They may attempt to fix the problem on their own, but all too often, a family member may actually enable a loved one’s alcohol abuse, rather than help.

Alcohol abuse not only affects the person who is abusing alcohol but can have a serious impact on the family dynamic as well. In fact, it’s often said that alcoholism is a family disease.

Alcohol abuse can begin as a result of familial patterns, behaviors, and genetics or it can begin with a new generation of family members.

When the alcohol abuse of one person becomes difficult for other members of the family, they may attempt to step in and try to fix the problem.

However, even when attempting to help, family members can actually enable a person’s alcohol abuse and do more harm than good.

What Is A Codependent Relationship?

When the actions of a family member tend to reinforce another member’s alcohol abuse, this is understood as codependency.

Codependent relationships are one-sided, where one person expends actions and emotions at the expense of themselves. Typically, codependent relationships can be categorized in two ways: as “takers” or “caretakers.”

The following are the two different characteristics of these two categories.


  • display an excessive need for control over spouses, children, and others
  • acquire love, acceptance, and approval through a number of control actions
  • may display anger, violence, and criticism when unable to control surroundings
  • act needy and invasively, through excessive talking and touching
  • act self-righteously and engage in frequent emotional drama


  • live vicariously, or through the actions of others
  • have an inability to say “no” to others
  • strongly believe they are capable of changing the behavior of others
  • have a strong sense of responsibility for others’ actions
  • can be the victim of abusive relationships
  • have a need for excessive love and self-validation

Ultimately, whether as a taker or caretaker, the co-dependent family member operates on a deep-seated fear that their loved one in trouble may leave the relationship. They latch onto the loved one, for fear of letting go.

This unhealthy relationship continues to feed the addiction, and the co-dependent family member usually does not realize their actions are harmful, and they continue to believe they are helping.

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Signs Of Enabling Alcohol Abuse

When family members displaying signs of codependency attempt to help, they may also be denying the factors of dysfunctionality within the family structure.

Rather than unpacking the core issues within the family through therapy or otherwise, the co-dependent family member continues to repress the problems and attempts to “fix” them. This repression of the real issues only continues to feed the alcohol abuse.

Some of the signs of enabling alcohol abuse among family members may include:

  • intensely focusing on the other person’s emotions
  • constantly worrying and experiencing anxiety
  • making excuses for reckless or dangerous behavior
  • feeling unable to experience happiness outside of the relationship
  • repressing personal thoughts and emotions
  • abandoning one’s own personal moral values
  • losing focus on one’s own interests and hobbies
  • continuing to supply money or alcohol

A variety of signs of interaction are often present in a family that deals with an individual’s alcohol abuse. The way that family members interact with one another when another member displays signs of alcohol abuse can seriously impact the structure of the family.

How Enabling Alcohol Abuse Happens

Often, codependent relationships are the result of a dysfunctional family environment. A dysfunctional family will never address its underlying issues, and an environment of fear, shame, and pain is repressed by members of this family.

As a result, mental illness and substance abuse can occur. Rather than address the issues of a negative, hypercritical, unloving environment or otherwise, an individual may reach for alcohol as a result.

In other cases, a person can enable another family member’s alcohol abuse even while trying to “fix” the pattern of abuse. Enabling often happens when someone does not understand the best methods of treatment.

This person might not do the research necessary to find the options for recovery, nor contact a medical professional. They may even attempt to help the family member with alcohol abuse problems to undergo detoxification at home, rather than in a clinical environment.

When withdrawal is attempted without the assistance of a medical professional, the likelihood of returning to alcohol abuse is greater when symptoms of withdrawal are too uncomfortable to withstand.

Enabling can happen when a person has good intentions, but can also occur as the result of a negative family environment. In families with issues of alcohol abuse among one member or more, there may be additional problems, such as:

  • alcohol abuse in other family members
  • domestic violence
  • child abuse
  • joblessness
  • criminal activity

When a child grows up with a parent that abuses alcohol, this increases the chance that they may abuse alcohol in the future.

An enabling parent may engage in alcohol abuse with their child or purchase alcohol for them or provide money for alcohol, allowing for the problem to continue.

How To Stop Enabling Alcohol Abuse

The family member struggling with codependency has spent a great deal of time worrying about others, rather than themselves. They have likely spent excessive energy attempting to control the actions of another person and stopped thinking about their own needs.

This individual has become blind to their own behavior and does not realize the negative role they have taken in the life of the family member abusing alcohol.

When a family structure has been seriously affected by a member’s alcohol abuse, it is said that a type of “family restructuring” is necessary. The behaviors and actions that have allowed alcohol abuse to continue in the past must be addressed.

A family restructuring often begins when the person abusing alcohol enters treatment. Many treatment centers offer family counseling.

In family counseling sessions, a therapist will help to address the issues that enabled alcohol abuse in a family member and help to mediate those problems.

This means that multiple practitioners must be a part of the same treatment program with one family and exchange confidential information accordingly.

As much as the issues that led a family member to abuse alcohol are treated in recovery, the issues of codependency must be addressed as well.

In order to step away from codependent behavior, a person must first recognize that their behavior has become self-destructive and they need to start taking care of their own needs. In fact, recovering from codependency is not unlike recovering from addiction.

The process of recovering from codependency involves addressing the internalized emotions that prompted them to begin behaving in a codependent way. Just as addiction can develop from deeply internalized emotions, codependency can begin the same way.

Ways to address codependency:

  • practice physical self-care in the form of exercise, good sleep, and nutrition
  • recognize former coping mechanisms and seek new ones
  • practice detachment from the behavior of others
  • seek education about alcohol abuse and treatment
  • learn new strategies for self-care

Throughout the treatment process, a person struggling with alcohol abuse has the option to attend family therapy sessions. When codependency has been recognized as an ongoing issue, it can be addressed throughout the treatment process.

A person in recovery and the co-dependent family member can learn how to resolve conflict, recognize where mutual behaviors were harmful, and learn how to help one another.

The family member is also recommended to attend 12-step programs with their loved one and learn more about the process of recovery.

Through 12-step meetings, individuals can learn how others deal with issues of codependency and establish healthy boundaries and relationships.

It can be difficult to recognize and cope with issues of codependency. But with the help of an effective alcohol treatment program, one can learn how to stop enabling a family member’s alcohol abuse, and provide help for their loved one as well.

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