How to stop ‘enabling’ someone’s substance use

How to stop ‘enabling’ someone’s substance use

When I first heard the term “enabling”, I felt really sorry for the people who were classed as the “enablers”. It felt to me like a negative label attributed to someone that’s trying their best, day in, day out, to help someone they love with a substance misuse problem. “How mean”, I thought!

Now, I’ve realised that my attitude to this was all wrong. Enabling actually means unknowingly “making something possible or easier”. The family and friends of people who use drugs and alcohol go through a wide range of emotions themselves and are not trained therapists, so end up trying anything and everything to help their loved one change. This is a perfectly natural thing to do!

When a loved one shows signs of recovery or a glimmer of their old self and behaviours, a relaxed and sympathetic approach ensues. As they move back into their ‘selfish’ drinking or drug using behaviours, angry reactions are to be expected. If they put themselves in danger, panic, or worry, desperate measures are called upon. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions every single day and if you’re in this situation, you’re just doing your best. See my blog on the cycle of change for more detail of the road to recovery.


What is enabling?


Disabling enabling is one of the four Vesta Programme principles. In my programme, we will tune you in to any ways in which you and others have perhaps been (unknowingly) making it a bit too easy for your loved one to drink or use drugs. Don’t worry! Everyone does this out of the love and care for their family.

In order for your loved one to change, we make a plan for this to stop these behaviours and replace them with better ones. Why? Because until you and others around your loved one stop “helping”, the chances of them stopping misusing drugs or alcohol are slim to none.

There is no judgement here. Enabling, helping or whatever you want to label it is a lovely, kind thing to do. It’s just not going to change anything.


Why does enabling matter?


If we want to influence substance misusing behaviour, there are a few things to consider. What does your loved one get out of their substance use? What do they like about it and what does it allow them to avoid? It’s important to think about these points as the benefits of their use. Secondly, what problems do drug and alcohol use cause them? What good things do they miss out on when they use or drink? These are the costs of their substance use.

If we focus on the problems that drugs and alcohol cause them, these are “punishing consequences” and include anything that makes them feel bad as a result of their substance use. Hangovers, missing work, shame, depression, aggression or health concerns. Each person will have different reactions to different consequences.

The important thing to remember is that in order to create change, the balance of the costs and the benefits of substance use needs to be shifted so that your loved one experiences ALL the natural consequences of their substance use. Your loved one needs to experience the full costs of their substance use.

If enabling takes place by anyone close to your loved one, they will continue to experience the more positive effects of their substance use. We need them to experience the negatives. It’s tough, but I can help you do this on the Vesta Programme.


Enabling behaviours


We’ve established what enabling is and why we need to stop doing it, but it’s important to understand what types of behaviour are enabling. It can be anything that reduces the painful consequences of their use, protecting them from other people’s judgements or reactions. Some examples of enabling behaviours are as follows:

  • Concealing a loved one’s substance use from family or friends
  • Paying off debts
  • Reparing damage to home or other posesisons
  • Defending them from criticism
  • Being around your loved one when they drink or use (regardless of your mood!)
  • Making excuses for them with work absence
  • Avoiding having your own life on order to help them

Can you recognise any? What might be the consequences of these behaviours for you and your loved one?

Remember that nobody is judging you here!


The benefits of disabling enabling


When we enable, we reduce the negative consequences of someone’s undesirable behaviour at a cost to ourselves. This means that instead of your loved one experiencing the cost of their own behaviour, you are! These costs manifest themselves physically, emotionally, financially and socially.

If you think about what has worked before while you have been helping your loved one in this way, what has changed? Not much?

Perhaps it’s time to try a new approach.

Instead of living like this, imagine what it would be like to free up some of your headspace and concentrate on you?

In the Vesta Programme, I will help you to assess each enabling behaviour and we will work on stopping these. We will assess how comfortable and safe you feel stopping these behaviours and alongside the other programme principles I will help you to recover from your loved one’s substance use, live a better life and get your loved one into treatment.


I can help


My service, The Vesta Approach, supports families affected by a loved one’s substance use. You can access confidential support from me wherever you are in the world. I will help you to get your loved one into treatment and lead a better life. I offer face to face sessions in the Manchester (UK) area or via Skype.

I also have an online therapeutic programme. Take a look at my services here

Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Sign up to my mailing list here to keep up to date with Vesta news and get my free Ten Steps to Family Recovery download.


Take care,



Quality time with family.

Quality time with family.

Quality time with family


With the daily schedules, timed out to a tee and with little room for manoeuvre, how can we fit in quality time with the family?


Last weekend I had a brilliant day out with my family. I have recently reshuffled the way I have been doing things so I can fit family, work and other responsibilities in much better. I have been trying to spend as much quality and uninterrupted time in with my children and my husband as possible and it really does feel good! Sometimes, when we are busy with work, busy worrying about one particular person in our lives and busy worrying about things we can’t even change, we forget about the other people we have got in front of us. We forget the people that are always there for us and who we exist for. We are busy with the business of social media and scrolling through what everyone else is up to without living the life with people that want to live it with us!


Sometimes, one person or one aspect of our life can take up nearly all of our energy. I’ve started working on a project which I love incredibly, but I need to be careful that I reserve some space and time for the rest of my loved one’s and my other projects.


How to get quality time with a loved one with problematic drug or alcohol use


If you have a family member that uses drugs and alcohol, you can get some quality time in with them too. It’s important that you set boundaries and stick to them though. This is how to do it:

  1. If it’s quality time one to one, think of something you both like doing that will be of particular high value for them. This could be cooking their favourite dinner, watching a movie or going out somewhere that is not drug or alcohol related.
  2. There is no point going out clubbing with a drug user or going to a pub quiz with someone who has problems with alcohol! Stay away from the drugs. Don’t plan anything in involving substances, even if you will enjoy it or it brings back good memories from ‘before’.
  3. Agree your plan at a convenient time and day for both of you.
  4. Make it clear to your loved one that they need to be sober.
  5. Have a contingency plan for yourself if they are under the influence.
  6. Remember that them choosing to use substances is their choice. You have no control over it, you only have control over how you respond. Don’t react if they do, Always respond.
  7. Tell your loved one that it is up to them if they choose to use substances, but you choose not to be around it. If they use, then they do not get your company. Either carry on without them or leave them to enjoy the activity and you make alternative arrangements with no conflict. Try again next time.
  8. Don’t take it personally. I know, This is tough. Addiction, dependency or whatever you or they want to label it as means that the substance is often the priority. Keep trying without conflict and love and you will be able to influence
  9. If your loved one is sober, enjoy! Talk about how you love spending time with them sober. How you miss these times. The more your loved one recognises they are missing out on good things, the more likely they are to start thinking about changing. This is their decision though, not yours.
  10. Remember that we need to tip the balance so that drug or alcohol users experience the negative consequences of their substance use. One of these negative consequences is losing your company when under the influence and reminding them of what they are missing out on when they are sober!


How to get quality time with others


Going back to what I said earlier about one person taking up your energy, don’t forget that you can spend time with the other people without them. A major issue with families affected by a loved one’s substance use is that the rest of the family and social life is affected too.

Remember the circle of influence and how we spend a lot of our time worrying about things we have absolutely no influence over whatsoever!


So, take your baby to the cinema.

Take your partner out for a meal.

Take your dad for afternoon tea.

Go and see an old friend.

Go on an adventure with the family.

Spend some time alone!


Whetever you enjoy doing, do it!


Let me know what you’re planning to do, when, where and with who in the comments : )


I can help


My service, The Vesta Approach, supports families affected by a loved one’s substance use. You can access confidential support from me wherever you are in the world. I will help you to get your loved one into treatment and lead a better life. I offer face to face sessions in the Manchester (UK) area or via Skype.

I also have an online therapeutic programme. Take a look at my services here

Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Sign up to my mailing list here to keep up to date with Vesta news and get my free Ten Steps to Family Recovery download.


Take care,



Coping with grief

Coping with grief

Coping with grief


Last Friday, we lost our dog, Evie Wonder.


We think she was almost twelve but we aren’t too sure as we rescued her from Manchester Dogs Home (who do a fantastic job by the way!). She was like our first baby and we had her seven years.


We loved her. We used to take her on long walks whatever the weather and when we couldn’t do that, we found the best people we could to look after her. I remember being incredibly upset when we went away for a month to Eastern Europe because we had to leave her!


As time went on, we had our daughter and poor Evie moved down the pecking order a bit, but then we all did, so I don’t think she minded too much! Post-natally, She helped me get fit again because having a dog just makes you get out of the house. Getting out of the house makes you feel good, even if you wake up at 6am and could think of nothing worse. Once me and my little Evie were out it set us up both  for the day!


When we had our son, there was even more change for her and I feel bad that I didn’t have as much time to give Evie. She was always so polite and waited. She benefited hugely from having children around though. The extra fuss and a LOT of extra food came her way with two new humans sitting in the high chair.


She had separation anxiety which drove me up the wall, if I’m being honest, but was lovely in the same way. We just don’t know what happened to her in her first five years or so. She was picked up on the streets in Stockport and then taken to the Dogs’ Home. Who knows what she had been through.


We had some great laughs with her. I felt guilty that times had changed and her quality of life might not have been so great towards the end, because we had to prioritise our children. I’m not going to lie, having the extra responsibility of the dog to look after felt like a burden sometimes.


On a positive note, we gave her a great life! She was so well looked after. She had the best food, grooming and walks every day without fail. On the rare occasion we couldn’t walk her, she played out in the garden with my husband and the children and had lots of love.

Evie and Georgia

Evie waiting for the food machine to drop something! 



This week has been awful. The house without her is just not the same. We love being at home and we miss her so much. I’ve never been a major animal lover but Evie changed that. I never quite ‘got it’ when people talked about the grief of their dog dying. ‘They’re just animals’, I thought, ‘Humans are more important!’ Maybe they are, but there’s something about my dog being around that was different. Her death has affected us just as much as the people we have lost in our lives.


We were fortunate in a way that it was a Friday when she went, because we had the weekend to come to terms with our loss. I was seriously thinking the other day, how would work react if I said I couldn’t go in because my dog has died! Can you imagine? But these feelings are real, so I just wanted to acknowledge them today. I also wanted to acknowledge that we are forced to balance those feelings with the need to just get on with it! We have two young children and they showed no mercy last weekend when we could have really done with taking it easy! Ha. That’s life.


It made me think about grief generally and how we can help ourselves to manage it. Remember that grief doesn’t have to be about someone’s death. It can be about losing someone we love who is still with us, but perhaps not the same person as before.




I was introduced to a fabulous tool that I’ve been able to use this week when I’ve been thinking about coping with my own grief. This tool is called the change curve and was originally developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her book, ‘Death and Dying’, which was published in 1969. This model has been adapted to use in any sort of change and I used to teach it to others. This is the first time I have gone back to it to help with a personal issue and it has worked.


The Change Curve

Change curve


The left hand axis shows our emotional response and the horizontal axis represents time. People go through the stages at their own pace and it is really crucial we remember this when we think ‘get over it’ or ‘move on’. Some people are more resilient than others. The 5 stages of grief are:

  1. Denial- we might be in shock and cannot accept what has happened. As we have not accepted the change has happened, our emotional response is not affected.
  2. Anger- we could look for someone to blame or blame ourselves or others, or even experience guilt, as I described above.
  3. Bargaining- where we try and put off the inevitable- we could have done this by bringing our Evie home from the vet, or asking for a second opinion, or leaving her for the weekend to try and recover, but when we both went back to see her, we knew it was her time to go.
  4. Depression- we start accepting our loss and this is where our emotions are mostly affected, bringing feelings of overwhelming sadness or depression.
  5. Acceptance- when we move through to acceptance we experience a period where we try and get used to living in a different way and dealing with the change. We start experimenting with the new change and this helps us to move through it. This is where we are at today, a week after Evie passed away.

I am naturally task focused so I like to make sense of things and try and find a way to move on. I am also an extremely emotional person so remembering this helpful tool has helped me feel more comfortable with the emotion we have felt this week.

It is important to remember that people move through this cycle at different paces. Nobody is the same. Some people get stuck and this is where we can become depressed, anxious or bitter, so it’s useful to understand that these feelings are a natural part of change, but in order to move on, we must be able to work through these feelings.

Some advice i got over on my Facebook page to do just that is:

“Let yourself feel sad. Remember your loved one with joy and happiness. I call it my pit of sadness, once you hit the bottom of the pit the only way is back up. Grief is real and you can’t avoid it. Be good to yourself and don’t fight the grief, just allow it to happen.”

“A bit of wallowing and wailing followed by a good walk and fresh air to kick start the endorphins.
And sleep.”

And my top tip is to remember the good times!

Happy Evie

On our way for a walk 🙂


Applying the change curve to your own life


Think about a change, grief or loss that you have been through and how you can apply it to the change curve.

Remember that the feelings we experience during any sort of change are NORMAL. Go with them and refer back to this because it certainly has helped me this week.


I can help


My service, The Vesta Approach, supports families affected by a loved one’s substance use. You can access confidential support from me wherever you are in the world. I will help you to get your loved one into treatment and lead a better life. I offer face to face sessions in the Manchester (UK) area or via Skype.

I also have an online therapeutic programme. Take a look at my services here

Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Sign up to my mailing list here to keep up to date with Vesta news and get my free Ten Steps to Family Recovery download.


Take care,