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Identifying Enabling Behaviours with the Help of Addictions Counselling Training

As a future addictions counsellor, you’ll likely not only work with clients who have an addiction, but you may also work with their family members and loved ones. An addiction can take a significant toll on family dynamics. Therefore, counselling the family members can be an important part of the recovery process, allowing loved ones to also heal from the experience and move forward.

Working with a client’s loved ones also offers another important opportunity. It allows addictions counsellors the chance to identify and address enabling behaviours, which left unaddressed could halt or hinder a client’s recovery.

If you’re interested in starting a rewarding career as an addictions counsellor, read on to learn more about identifying enabling behaviours.

Students in Addictions Counselling Training Know Enablers Have Good Intentions

Most people with an addiction have one or two individuals in their lives who are enabling their addiction. Whether the enabler is a parent, sibling, friend, or spouse, it’s likely that their intentions are good. Watching a loved one struggle with addiction can be difficult, stressful, and exhausting. As a result, many family members and friends believe that by making their loved one’s life easier, they are putting them on a path towards recovery. However, some acts of love—such as making excuses for an addicted loved one’s irresponsible or unusual behaviour—can actually make it easier for the addicted individual to stay in their rut of negative behaviour. With the help of this enabling behaviour, it’s unlikely the client will realize the need to seek or continue recovery (Khaleghi, 2012).

Enablers often have good intentions and want what’s best for their loved one
Enablers often have good intentions and want what’s best for their loved one

When working with addicted individuals’ loved ones after addictions counselling training, try to keep in mind that if they are demonstrating enabling behaviour, it’s likely they are well intended. It’s important to explain to loving friends and family how their good intentions could actually be harming the recovery process.

The Difference Between Enabling and Empowering

The line between enabling and empowering an addicted individual can sometimes be a bit blurry. While both often stem from good intentions, the distinction between the two can make a big difference in someone’s recovery. When determining whether a behaviour is enabling or empowering, it’s important to think about whether the behaviour is helping support the addicted individual’s current lifestyle, or if it’s supporting them in the journey towards recovery (Khaleghi, 2012).

A common situation is where family members and friends provide financial assistance or somewhere to live while a client gets “back on their feet.” If a client has received this help many times before and never made a positive change, continuing to provide this kind of support could be enabling their addiction rather than promoting recovery. However, if a client has hit rock bottom and it’s clear they are making a change by attending a 12-step program or in a form of recovery, certain types of support can be empowering. In most cases, however, providing money directly to a loved one with an addiction should be avoided (Addictions and Recovery.org, 2017). Instead, it’s best to make purchases like groceries on an addicted person’s behalf, and not provide cash directly. Using the expertise gained in addictions counsellor courses, you’ll be able to make educated observations on a case-by-case basis and determine whether a client is being empowered or enabled.

After Your Addictions Counselling Training, Watch Out for These Common Signs of Enabling

Once you become an addictions counsellor, there are several common signs of enabling you should watch out for. It may be difficult to know if these behaviours are occurring, so it’s important to listen closely during sessions to see if family and friends are effectively helping their loved one towards recovery.

Some common signs of enabling you should watch out for are:

  • Providing money for drugs or alcohol, to fuel a gambling addiction, or to make up for money spent on an addiction that should have gone towards living expenses
  • Making excuses and lying on behalf of a loved one with an addiction
  • Cleaning up after a destructive or messy episode
  • Ignoring the behaviour or living in denial of a problem
Ignoring an addiction is a common enabling behaviour
Ignoring an addiction is a common enabling behaviour

By being aware of these signs of enabling, you can help a client’s loved ones identify and stop their enabling behaviours, so that they can constructively channel their good intentions in a way that promotes lasting recovery.

Do you want to earn your diploma in addiction counselling?

Contact Rhodes Wellness College to learn more!


Addictions and Recovery.org. (2017, March 15). Help for Families With Addiction. Retrieved from https://www.addictionsandrecovery.org/families-and-addiction.htm

Foundations Recovery Network. (2014, September 4). 7 Signs that You’re Enabling an Addict. Retrieved from https://www.foundationsrecoverynetwork.com/7-signs-youre-enabling-addict/

Khaleghi, K. (2012, July 11). Are You Empowering or Enabling? Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-anatomy-addiction/201207/are-you-empowering-or-enabling

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