The Christian Broadcasting Network

  • Give To CBN
  • Partners
  • Jobs
  • Log In or Sign Up

Overcoming Addictions - Help for Christians

Christians and non-Christian alike battle with addictions and other behaviors that they find themselves struggling to leave behind. Through faith in Jesus Christ and placing emotional and spiritual health as attainable goals, we can all be overcomers.

This blog, produced by Certified Recovery Specialist Beth Livingston, is for people to exchange struggles and victories of breaking free from addictions and other hurtful behaviors.

Signs You Are an Enabler

husband and wifeby Beth Livingston
Certified Recovery Specialist

Someone you love has an addiction or behavior problem; and you hurt for them so deeply that you try to help them get better. If their unmanageable lives have negatively affected your life because of your involvement in helping them, you might be an enabler.

Here are a few examples:

An adult son had three DUIs and spent a year in jail. He lost his driving privileges for years. He often needs a ride to work, college classes, pick up his children, recreation, etc. His mother frequently drives him, even when it’s inconvenient for her. But, she tells herself that she’s helping him get back on his feet, so she doesn’t mind. She discovers that he’s drinking again, confronts him and he says, “Well, at least I’m not driving while I’m drinking. I’ll never do that again!” She tells him the dangers of his choice to drink again while she drives him back and forth to work and school. She’s not helping him get on his feet; she’s helping him continue to drink. She gets so angry inside when she thinks of the stupid choices he’s still making. She is an enabler.

An older sister has snuck out of the house to hang out with friends her parents have forbidden her to see. She threatens to hate her little sister forever if she doesn’t keep the secret. Little sister keeps her mouth shut. She’s not protected the sibling relationship; she’s helped her sister get into dangerous situations. She’s put herself in the position of being an accomplice to her big sister’s bad choices and sits on pins and needles hoping she gets home safely. She is an enabler.

A wife wants to quit smoking and has tried and failed several times. She’s trying again and in the middle of fixing dinner for the family, she gets an upsetting phone call from a friend. “I’ve got to have a cigarette,” she demands. She looks at her husband and says, “I hate to ask you this, but will you please go to the store and buy me a pack?” He says, “No, I don’t want to be part of that.” She huffs back, “Well then, I’m going to stop fixing dinner and go get it myself! We’ll probably be late for the evening service. Won’t you please go get it? I really need a cigarette. I won’t ask again.” He caves in and gets her the pack of smokes. He didn’t help keep the family get their meal or to the evening service on time; he helped his wife continue smoking. He groaned on the inside and was angry driving to the store to get a pack of cigarettes. He just wishes she’d quit once and for all. He is an enabler.

The possibilities are endless for the many ways we “help” our loved ones who have problems. What’s it going to take for us to just say, “NO!” and stick to it? The general reason we don’t is that we feel it’s not loving and kind to leave them floundering in the mismanagement of their lives. After all, we are Christians. Aren’t we doing what Christ would want us to do? Not if we are not setting healthy limits for ourselves. Our lives are a gift from God. He expects us to manage our time here on earth taking care of our responsibilities, not someone else’s.

In 2 Corinthians 5:10, Paul writes, “For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body.”

Enabling only delays our loved ones’ growth. We enablers need to learn to set healthy boundaries and love God with all our hearts, souls, and minds. He can help us sort out where our responsibilities end and how to love our troubled family and friends appropriately.

Do you think you might be wrapped up in an enabling relationship? What are you afraid will happen if you stop doing whatever you are doing? Please feel free to post your thoughts and situations on this blog. The more we get things out in the open, the more we can get healthy feedback.

Print      Email to a Friend    posted on Wednesday, July 14, 2010 6:10 PM

Comments on this post

# RE: Signs You Are an Enabler

I am definitely an enabler, I feel just like the article says, if I love them I will help them. I thought it would be mean and unchristian to not do things for them. In the process of all this, I am suffering miserably. My youngest son has an addiction to alcohol, he always asks me for money and curses me out if I say no. I know he is using me but I can't stand the thought of him being angry at me. What can I do.
Left by maryo on Jul 15, 2010 1:44 PM

# RE: Signs You Are an Enabler

It's not easy to change the role that you've been playing in the relationship between you and your son. But, a change is needed. I remember reading in the "Boundaries" book by Henry Cloud and John Townsend that when someone throws a fit at you when you've told them "no," they really weren't asking if you'd do something for them, they're demanding that you do it or suffer their scorn. It's a childlike response to being told no and your son is acting like a child. Here is a link to an article on that addresses this very issue - - copy it and paste it in your browser. It may be some help.

It sounds like you'd really benefit from figuring out why you can't stand the thought of your son being angry at you. Have you talked to your pastor or sought counseling or small group support for co-dependency? That might help too. For now, maryo, I'm saying a prayer for you - that can't hurt!
Left by blivingston on Jul 15, 2010 4:00 PM

# RE: Signs You Are an Enabler

My husband is addicted to computer games; I've been praying and waiting on the Lord for his deliverance. I also ask God if there is something that I should do, because I really don't do anything to help my husband out. Sometimes it is comfortable and ok for me to allow him to play all he wants because that way I can get anything I want; furthermore sometimes I think that if he stops playing I may not have all the freedom I am enjoying right now. It is complicated because it really hurts me to see him playing all day long after work and on weekends up to 14 and more hours. My kids hate it as well and are always complaining to him about it but it is like my husband doesn’t care. He is not really a bad husband or bad father but the computer games are taking the best of him away. This has been going on for 10 years now; he has come to the Lord twice and quitted playing but has back slide and come back to the games. Am I an enabler? Is it up to me to help my husband to beat his addiction?
Left by polyfly9586 on Aug 05, 2010 9:27 AM

# RE: Signs You Are an Enabler

I've wondered the same about myself. My husband is addicted to gaming and we have a 3 year old daughter. I used to bother him constantly to stop, and one day I just gave up. It seemed pointless to try, so I adapted. Now my daughter and I have our routine and he has his. He would work all day and then play all night, get a couple hours sleep and then go to work again the next day. Two days ago he was fired. I feel like I was enabling him because I allowed him to play until all hours. I got so tired of fighting about it, I thought maybe if I left him alone he would decide to stop on his own. Now I don't know what to do. It makes me mad, but I feel helpless to change the situation because he has to want to change and he won't even admit to having a problem. He's been addicted for about 10 years, and we have been together for 5. It has always been a problem for us, but I feel like he'd choose games over famil. Am I enablin him by not putting up a fight about it?
Left by livelyliz on Aug 08, 2010 8:43 AM

# RE: Signs You Are an Enabler

My husband plays games on our computer for longer than I would like also. It is an addictive or compulsive behavior. I think it keeps him from work many times and I know it eats up time we could be having together. When our spouse's addiction causes us pain and we do nothing about it, we enable by doing nothing. I'm guilty as well. Seems like I justify my decision to do nothing because I know there are things he could be doing away from home that would hurt me more. For example, if he were drinking or gambling. I am working through this difficult enabling issue and know that I need to set a boundary. I am trying to find that boundary through going to a small support group and working through Cloud and Townsend's workbook, "Boundaries."
Left by blivingston on Aug 09, 2010 9:40 AM

# RE: Signs You Are an Enabler

My husband is an addict, rehab at 3 places, and went from pills to crack back to pills. He overdosed and nearly died last fall. He has back problems and thinks it is ok to take pain pills except he takes tons of them. I hide them, he finds them. He needs an extra all the time as it "hurts a lot today" and if he doesnt take 2 or 3 pills 3 times a day, you better not even look his way because he is the meanest person. And if i have a fit, then he always suggests a divorce. Honestly that sounds great half the time but I cannot support myself at this time and I am a Christian and married for sickness and health. I am just tired of the lies. When my husband overdosed on pills... all kinds of them... I found him and he was recessitated and saved. I thought that would change his life, but no. He got out of the hospital and started pill chasing, he got better for a while, but now we live around family who could care less he is an addict. He is a Christian and knows the Word. HELP
Left by karamichelle on Aug 20, 2010 9:54 PM

# RE: Signs You Are an Enabler

Karamichelle, your situation is all too common. You want your husband to get help and he just keeps on heading for destruction. Your wedding vows are sacred to you and it's sad to hear that your husband throws the divorce idea up when you take a stand for emotional wellness. I hope you find help and know that I just prayed for you and hopefully others who read this will pray for you too. May God strengthen you, comfort you and direct your steps to finding peace in the midst of the storm.
Left by patches on Aug 24, 2010 11:24 AM

# RE: Signs You Are an Enabler

help me, g-d b/c my husband has a terrible gambling problem. he has taken EVERYTHING from me no matter how many times i cry or reason with him or beg him or yell at him or just talk to him, he will not stop. I sold the car, he pawned the special wedding ring I picked for him w/ a diamond in it, he took my bonus from work, our tax refund, any holiday checks i get from my parents, my special savings bonds i got when i graduated, he maxed out my credit cards so i'm over $20,000 in debt, i borrowed $15,000 from my 401k to pay off a very high interest credit card, i took out a loan in desperation b/c if i don't pay off the 'bad people' he says they will kill him. he says they will shoot him so he'll be in a wheelchair. we have a daughter. i hate for her to see my cry. I got a second job and worked doubles on my other one. I am even taking shots now to become a surrogate mother. my heart breaks every day. i hidethis ALL from friends and family. they have no idea the burden i bare. help me
Left by anonymousone on Mar 29, 2011 11:46 PM

# RE: Signs You Are an Enabler

Anonymousone, that's a mighty big burden you carry. The Serenity Prayer is "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Amen." My prayer for you is that you seek God's cousel, realizing that you can't change other people, only yourself.

Jeremiah 29:11 says, "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"

My sister in Christ, from what you've explained, you're feeding an insatiable monster. At this point, your husband's gambling has put his life in jeopardy and you're drowning in debt to save his life. He's not stopped. Next it will be your life and/or your daughter's life that's in jeopardy. In many ways, that's already true.

PLEASE seek professional help from a licensed counselor and/or a trusted Christian pastor/leader. U can call 700 Club Prayer Counselors 1-800-759-0700 or live web chat.
Left by blivingston on Mar 30, 2011 9:31 AM

# RE: Signs You Are an Enabler

I have been a enabler in my life. I've known people who used excuses not to stop their bad behavior and these people being my parents. I enabled them by thinking of "honoring" them by giving them what they wanted when I knew it was wrong. I had tried in the past not to help them and they ended up homeless for three weeks. Their behavior never changed and The saddest fact of all is that they passed away. I don't feel any regret about what I did because I felt I did the best I could while they were alive. I was with both of them when they died and I would not have changed them and I accepted them for who they were without judgement. It is not my place as a child to pass a judgement on my parents who I loved dearly. I only wished they would have made better choices for themselves. I tried to be as "Christian" as I could. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses and as long as they enjoyed their lives on this planet, I truly feel that my role that I played was the best it was.
Left by Tercoop7105 on Aug 19, 2011 1:43 PM

# RE: Signs You Are an Enabler

I came to this site to seek answers. I feel so confused. By every definition I've read I am a classic enabler. My mother had issue with alcohol and I kept the secret, then i married an alcoholic thinking if I just loved him enough it would be okay. I tried so hard to make it work, but I never felt loved by my husband and the sense of lack in me eventually led to our divorce. Now I am dealing with adult children who can't seem to get their act together and keep running to Mom (that's me) for help. I see the pattern but can't seem to break through. I want so badly to be supportive and loving, I try to help but they keep making bad choices. It truly feels so unloving and unchristian to just let them suffer the consequences of their bad choices, when I honestly believe they don't understand themselves why they do these things. Isn't Christs example to us one of self-sacrifice? Can't seem to find the boundaries between compassion and enabling. Help.How can I find peace?
Left by GodIsLove on Jan 17, 2012 9:10 PM

# RE: Signs You Are an Enabler

GodIsLove, the boundaries between compassion and enabling are tough to distinguish, but they can be found. Enabling happens when we love someone so much that we don't want them to suffer the consequences of their own actions, so we "help" them and point out to them what could have happened if we hadn't helped and we hope and pray that they'll change their behavior. Sadly, when we help them avoid consequences, it reinforces their destructive behavior and they don't learn what we had hoped they'd learn. It's an ugly circle. One of my favorite resources for help in this area is Cloud and Townsend's "Boundaries" teachings. In studying those, I have learned that in some ways we get in God's way of letting people turn to Him when we prevent them from having to feel the consequences of their choices. The need for change hits home with people when the natural cause and effect of behaviors happens. You can love them through whatever they face without preventing consequences. Hope that helps.
Left by blivingston on Jan 18, 2012 9:49 AM

# RE: Signs You Are an Enabler

I relate so much with the first senario, only I am the daughter to mother and the sister to the the adult son. Sadly, I can not tell you how comforting it is to put a name to what has gone on in our lives for 20+ years. Mama is gone now... for almost 2 years. Since then my brother has been in prision for a year. Since he got out last August, I stupidly have agreed to give him $500. a month for one year to help him get back on his feet. Did I do it for him? Or... did I do it to keep away from me? Or do I feel quilty because Mama left what little she had to me, because he drained her and she didn't want him to have anything. The probate lawyer who specializes in elder care said the he ruined her life... Not going into details, I now realize it is true. She was not strong enough to break free of him. She was loved him, but was so scared of him. While I know all this... why am I have so much trouble? Everyday my brother and his extended family that he is not around worry me. Help!
Left by Vickie Dee on Mar 02, 2012 11:07 AM

# RE: Signs You Are an Enabler

Vickie Dee, just know that you are not alone in trying to figure out why you are still in the middle of an emotionally unhealthy relationship with a loved one. Identifying your motives for why you are doing what you are doing is a healthy step. I'm certain you can find what that motivation is with focused prayer and asking Jesus to show you why you are "helping" your brother. Is there accountability worked into the equation? For example, does your brother have to stay involved in some program or stay away from doing certain things to continue to get the monthly help? It sounds like you are caught in the middle of fear and worry regarding your brother. That's definitely not a good place to be. However you are able to accomplish letting go of these emotions will help you see things more clearly and make decisions not based on emotions, but based on what you know to be right or wrong. My suggestion would be for you to find godly counsel and figure out how to have peace.
Left by blivingston on Apr 20, 2012 9:30 AM