Enabling behavior in a clinical sample of alcohol-dependent clients and their partners

J Subst Abuse Treat. 2004 Jun;26(4):269-76. doi: 10.1016/j.jsat.2004.01.007.


Substance use disorders affect not only the identified client but significant others as well. Clinical work and some research suggest that partner responses to drinking may either facilitate or hinder treatment acceptance and recovery efforts. Female partners of male alcoholics have received much of this attention, and have been labeled as codependents or enablers. We administered a clinically derived assessment tool, the Behavioral Enabling Scale, to 42 alcoholic clients and their partners enrolled in a couples counseling program to determine the extent of specific partner behaviors that might reasonably be thought to reinforce drinking or hinder recovery. Results indicated that, among other findings, the majority of both clients and partners reported the partner took over chores or duties from the alcoholic client at some point during the relationship, drank or used other drugs with the client, and lied or made excuses to others to cover for the drinker. Moreover, particular relationship beliefs were associated with higher behavioral enabling scores, providing clear direction for cognitive and behavioral interventions. It is argued that efforts to understand and treat alcohol dependence will be more productive if partner behaviors are incorporated into assessment and intervention procedures.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcoholism / psychology*
  • Alcoholism / rehabilitation*
  • Codependency, Psychological*
  • Couples Therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Psychological Tests
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Spouses / psychology*
  • United States