Sorting Out the Differences Between Codependency and Enabling

What is the Difference Between Codependence and Enabling?

The terms “codependency” and “enabling” are often conflated. Although they are connected, they mean very distinct things.

Codependency occurs when a loved one of the person struggling with addiction or substance abuse is so concerned with care-giving, they allow the addiction to define the terms of the relationship. Acceptance, security, care, and love become currencies managed by addictive behaviors, instead of being based on mutual agency and respect between two parties.

Enabling, on the other hand, is a direct or indirect action by the loved one that supports addictive patterns. Making excuses to other family members for destructive behavior and financially supporting substance abuse are examples of enabling. Codependent dynamics in a relationship often precede enabling, but enabling actions can also be the cause of codependency patterns.

Who Can Be Codependent or an Enabler?

Behaviors by loved ones and friends allow individuals with substance use problems to avoid the negative consequences that may accompany their actions. There are many ways in which this behavior can express itself. But who exactly might be an enabler? These types of destructive behaviors can be instigated by various individuals including:

– Parents
– Siblings
– Co-workers
– Supervisors
– Neighbors
– Friends
– Teachers
– Doctors
– Therapists

How Does Someone Become an Enabler?

It seems like a big leap for a loved one to go from just wanting the best for their friend or family member to a full-blown enabler. After all, no one wants a loved one to do something that would hurt themselves or others. So, how does it get to the point that an individual would enable someone else’s unhealthy behavior?

Remember that the “benefits” of codependent and enabling relationships go both ways. First, the person struggling with addiction can continue the behavior that they want. Second, the enabler does not have to acknowledge that anything is wrong and can fill the role of the “rescuer,” if need be. Unfortunately, these roles are short-term solutions to a long-term problem. In the long run, codependent and enabling behaviors lead to unhappiness for the enabler and the further deterioration of the individual abusing drugs or alcohol.

Signs of Codependency and Enabling

The reality is that codependent and enabling behaviors contribute to substance abuse. If codependency precedes enabling, it may look like having a constant preoccupation with the other person’s behavior and feeling unnecessarily guilty when not taking care of the other person’s needs. This unhealthy preoccupation often stems from not having adequate self-esteem. Common negative thoughts in the codependency cycle may include:

– “My feelings are not as important as theirs”
– “I’m not good enough”
– “I’m not lovable”
– “It is not acceptable for me to have problems”
– “It’s unacceptable for me to have fun”
– “I don’t deserve love and respect”
– “I’m responsible for my friend or significant other’s behavior”

Enabling behaviors, on the other hand, are more concrete and can be observed as direct or indirect actions that support the addiction pattern. Examples of enabling may include:

– Doing something for another that they should do themselves
– Making excuses for the individual’s behavior
– A spouse calling their significant other’s employer to say that they are sick and can’t work when they are just hung over
– Bailing out a child who has been arrested for possession, substance abuse, or other criminal acts
– Giving or loaning money that supports the addiction
– Staying silent or willfully ignorant of destructive behavior
– Defending the substance abuser and allowing the behavior to continue

What Does Denial Have to Do With It?

An important part of codependent and enabling behavior is the concept of denial. Denial is when a loved one refuses to recognize or admit that there is a problem. This does not only refer to substance abuse but also to denial as a more general defense mechanism that is utilized when a person finds the truth of a situation too difficult to accept. In this case, denial of substance abuse behavior can mean that loved ones are unwilling to recognize how the behavior is affecting work, school, relationships, or causing financial problems.

According to the Journal of Clinical Psychology, denial often includes “maintaining the belief that the codependent individual should be able to change his or her partner’s behavior, in the face of accumulating evidence to the contrary.” Sometimes even more striking in the denial phenomenon is the enabler’s inability to acknowledge the deterioration of the relationship they have with the substance abuser.

Getting Help for the Whole Family

As is made clear by the evidence, codependency and enabling are vicious cycles from which the person being enabled and the enabler need to extricate themselves. Loved ones and family members must get help in order to remind themselves on a regular basis that they did not cause the problem, nor can they control or fix it. The only person who can help the substance abuser is the substance abuser—they must first acknowledge their need for help and to then receive the help that is available.

In a codependent or enabling situation, both the abuser and dependent person need assistance for their recovery process. The person struggling with addiction needs to address both the chemical and psychological elements of their healing process, and the codependent individual needs to work through why they feel the need for this dependency. Help in the form of substance abuse counseling should be sought out for the substance abuser as well as therapy for the dependent person.

Like any other substance abuse problem, steps can be taken towards recovery. And in this case, help should be obtained for all parties involved. Treatment centers, online resources, and direct recommendations of therapists and counselors may each be a part of the recovery process.

To learn more about how to start your healing journey at Impact Recovery, get in touch with a member of our team here