Toxic Relationships and the Addiction Cycle

Treating addiction is a group effort. Personal change within the addict is of utmost importance, but change within the addict’s community of friends and family is crucial as well. After all, psychologists consider addiction to be a family disorder. This is because addiction and relational trauma and dysfunction go together. Substance abuse damages relationships, and existing toxic relationships contribute to the addiction cycle.

We will break down some of the most common relationship styles related to the addiction cycle. The three forms of enabling and attachment styles will be discussed here. To acheive recovery, we will have to examine the way toxic relationships have affected us. Not all relationships can be fixed, but understanding will help you to repair the ones you can.


Ok so what is enabling exactly? It’s a form of dysfunctional behavior in relationships. It happens when an addict’s close friend or family member wishes to help, but actually behaves in a way that allows the addiction to worsen or continue. The enabler may give money, housing, emotional support, or even provide the drugs or alcohol that the addict is struggling with. Often the enabler has good intentions, but does not know how to truly help the addict. Romantic partners, family members, friends, and coworkers can all become enablers. Here are the different enabling styles


This style of enabling involves tolerating too much harmful behavior and taking no action against it. Passive enablers tend to:

  • Minimize, rationalize, or deny alarming events or behaviors. If something very serious or dangerous occurs, a passive enabler will either deny or not even realize the gravity of the situation.
  • Avoid confrontation. Passive enablers may avoid confronting the addict out of fear, insecurity, or or dependency. Even when the individual feels hurt or attacked by the addict, the enabler will keep quiet about the substance abuse. An example of this would be a spouse who doesn’t mention anything about her husband’s alcoholism even though he’s been unkind and irresponsible in the marriage.
  • Keep the addict’s “secret.” The enabler will work with the addict to keep the substance abuse secret from other friends and family. This could mean lying to cover up signs of addiction, agreeing not to tell a specific person, or hiding evidence. This occurs frequently among teens who do not wish to get their friends “in trouble.”
  • Allow the addict to stay in your home, even after a negative event. Once living with the addict becomes unfair and burdensome, the enabler wil still not ask the addict to leave.

Active enabling occurs when someone’s behavior allows for the addiction to continue. This person is usually ‘over-supportive’  and they tend to:

  • Provide financial support. This could mean paying the addict’s rent, utilities, food, and other bills (such as credit card or student loan debt).
  • Take on the consequences of the addict’s behavior. Paying bail or fines, defending, cleaning up, making excuses, or doing anything else to save the addict’s skin after getting in trouble.
  • Blaming oneself for the addict’s behavior. This self-blaming style of thinking takes away the addict’s responsibility. Parents often engage in this type of enabling. The child learns that their addiction is someone else’s fault and stops feeling so responsible for his or her own actions, which impedes recovery.

Encouraging addiction tends to happen between people who use the same substance. Friends usually take on this enabling role, and they tend to:

  • Use drugs or drink alongside the addict.
  • Knowingly give the addict money for more drugs or alcohol.
  • Allowing drug use, distribution, or other dangerous and risky activities to take place in your home.
  • Helping the addict acquire substances. This could mean driving them to the bar or their dealer’s apartment, providing prescriptions, or buying and sharing drugs or alcohol.

Attachment Styles

Our attachment styles are formed during infancy and early childhood. These are more deeply engrained in our personalities than relationships with enablers. It may not be possible to fully change our attachment style, but learning about it will help us adjust our behaviors.

Secure attachment style.

This is the ideal. It happens when the infant’s caregiver, usually the mother, is responsive and emotionally available. This secure bond means the child feels safe with this person and isn’t fearful of abandonment or danger. The child feels complete trust in the caregiver and doesn’t show any extreme signs of seperation anxiety. Secure attachment style leads to better brain development, success in school and work, and strong healthy relationships later in life.

Insecure attachment style.

An insecure attachment style is characterized by a lot of seperation anxiety during infancy. It happens when the main caregiver is unresponsive or inappropriate about handling the baby’s physical and emotional needs. Later in life, infants with insecure attachment style are more prone to addiction and tend to have toxic and abusive relationships. This is because they learn from an early age that other people will let them down. These infants will turn to non-human sources of comfort such as food, toys, or other soothing sensations. As the infant grows, he or she continues to seek material rather than personal comfort, which could lead to substance abuse.

If you’re relationships are keeping you from achieving recovery, please reach out to us at We specialize in rebuilding healthy family dynamics to give you the best shot at recovery.

Substance abuse damages relationships, and existing toxic relationships contribute to the addiction cycle.

We will break down some of the most common relationship styles related to the addiction