When Anne was 13, she came home from school one afternoon to find her 17-year-old brother sniffing glue. Three months later, she would walk in on him as he was passing a needle full of heroin through his vein. Now, 18 years later, Anne looks back in shock at the wrenching effect his addiction had on her family and wonders if it was the family that was to blame for enabling him to continue for so long.

"At the beginning, I thought it was stupid," says Anne, an executive assistant for a real-estate firm. "He's just experimenting. He's gonna come out of it."

For months, she kept his drug use secret from their parents. While her father worked the night shift at a local airline and her mother slept, she would stay up until the early-morning hours waiting for her brother's friends "to get out of the house without hurting anybody."

But even when her parents found out and realized the severity of his addiction, their love for their only son precluded any idea of abandonment. Unwittingly, the family became the boy's worst enemy -- they became drug enablers.

"A drug enabler," says Alan Grooms, senior counselor and AIDS coordinator for the Washington Area Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Inc. (WACADA), "is a person who normally doesn't do drugs but who unintentionally assists someone to use drugs abusively.

"It is done out of kindness and love for the abuser, and often there is no acknowledgment on the part of the family or friends of the abuser that there is a problem," Grooms says. The enabler, says Grooms, is the person who cares so deeply for the addict that he or she will always let him go one more time.

Anne's parents never failed to bail out their son after his arrests. The last time he was picked up, however, the arresting officer advised them to let him stay the night. Her brother, Anne says, "thought it was the worst thing that could have happened to him, that his own family let him stay there for one night."

Marie, 28, a marketing consultant, lived with her boyfriend for five years while he was addicted to heroin, although she was unaware of it in the beginning. She wrote him checks for drugs so he wouldn't be in agony. "There was a side of me that wanted him happy. I was selfish, but you want him in a good mood, you want a companion. You don't want him climbing the walls."

"I got sucked in. I'm not unique," she says. "There are a lot of women who like to help. An enabler has to have almost a martyr complex. I couldn't let go."

Any attempt on her part to help him, she says, was sabotaged from the start. "He was so bright, I couldn't win an argument. I was the one, he said, who was making it a problem; he didn't have the problem. Drugs, he said, are something fun we'll do until we die."

According to Sister Rasheedah, social worker at Rap Inc., a drug-free residential program, there is only one way to help someone with a drug addiction: Let him reach rock bottom. In the case of teen-agers living at home, that usually means throwing them out. "We tell parents to put their children out, because they are going to destroy everything around them."

"He was killing my mother," says Anne. "He'd lash out at people, not physically but emotionally." When he stole his mother's diamond ring to pay for drugs, Anne called Rap Inc. The counselors came to their home to befriend him and to encourage him to enroll in the program -- but to no avail. He didn't need help, he said.

"I packed my brother's bags twice, and twice he came home with tears in his eyes." The family would always take him back. "My father would say 'He's my only son; I'm not putting him out.' It hurt me that I knew the solution and that my parents wouldn't do it."

Two months ago, Anne's parents formally evicted her brother -- now 36 years old -- from their home. Within a month, he had enrolled himself in the Rap program. "Finally, all doors were closed to him," says Anne. "Before, there was no reason to stop. If you're living rent-free -- with free food -- you don't care that it's just your family fussing at you."

Parents who assume the role of enablers often treat and refer to 25- and 30-year-olds as "kids." "Parents ... have to ask themselves what are they protecting these 'kids' from?" says William B. Harris, certified addiction counselor and director of the DWI program at WACADA. "The parents usually have low self-esteem and a fear of being alone. Sometimes, things happen to the user if you let him hit rock bottom, but if you do, there is at least a chance you'll get him back."

For most families and friends of drug abusers, the perceived stigma of drug abuse will prevent them from recognizing it in one of their own. "The same things are happening with drugs that happened 20 years ago with alcohol," says Sister Rasheedah.

According to Grooms, there is no difference between alcoholic enablers and drug-abuse enablers -- both will go to the same extremes.

Many drug abusers, according to Grooms, escape public view largely with the help of their enablers. The enabler's goal is often to try to portray the typical Ozzie-and-Harriet family. "Instead of saying her husband passed out, a wife will say he went to bed early. I say 'wife' because more men in the family are abusers than women."

Most statistics are based on police blotters and indigent facilities. "The enablers of drug addicts who live in the suburbs and still hold regular jobs," says Grooms, "are convinced that drug abuse is an affliction of social/economic groups other than their own. But there are no economic or racial lines." If a person has insurance, he says, they pay for the treatment and are never a statistic. "It could be happening next door to you; the enabler will keep it quiet."

"All my friends and family," says Marie, "had no idea. To this day, I still have to lie to his mother. When she asks things like 'Where's the dining room furniture?' -- furniture that was taken by people he owed money to -- I tell her it's still in my apartment. I'm still putting on the facade."

"It takes a lot of energy to build up that image," says Grooms. Many enablers will find themselves in financial straits, sometimes working additional jobs to pay the rent and drugs. "It will often take the threat of losing a home," he says, "before the enabler will face the fact that he can't do it alone."

"I was the only one with a checking account," says Marie. "His credit had been shot." One night, she and her boyfriend made trips to five different liquor stores where she had check-signing power to write overdrafts to round up $100 for a quick fix.

In the end, she says, she noticed some of her checks were missing; he was stealing from her.

There are extreme cases where the enabler even helps the abuser ingest the drug so the loved one avoids the pain of withdrawal. "There was a woman whose husband was addicted to coke," says Grooms. "She herself didn't use the drug but in the end she was helping him to blow up the cocaine because his nose was too encrusted and destroyed from so much coke.

"Why do they do it? Because they live for the illusion that the addict keeps telling them, that they will stop one day."

Marie's boyfriend talked a lot about quitting, she says. But the drugs would slowly come back into the house. "It was always something -- 'I got this deal I just couldn't turn down' or 'I have a friend in from Thailand who wants to give it to me free.' "

Anne's brother would always be very apologetic after a binge. "He'd say, 'I just need a chance.' And he would then stay home a couple of days 'doing good.' But we all knew he was going to come in tomorrow high.

"It is the denial that is so devastating. He'll be so high he can't even stand straight, he'll even have sweat pouring down the sides of his face, and he'll tell you, 'I have nothing in my system.' "

The first step for a family member or friend of an addict, according to Grooms, is to conduct an intervention -- a serious talk with the drug abuser to tell him there is a problem and the abuser must take action to help himself. Present should be people who have seen the addictive behavior and people the addict holds in high esteem. And they should be able to offer an alternative -- a hot-line number, a booked bed at a rehabilitation center or the name of a professional drug-abuse counselor.

The biggest fallacy, says Grooms, is to believe that once the addict enters treatment family members and employers can stand back and think their work is done. "In the weeks, months, even years ahead -- and it does most often take years -- the enablers need to readjust themselves."

Grooms usually suggests therapy groups such as Al-anon. In his experience, however, most people just want to close down. "They don't want to reach out and talk to someone, they are still trying keep up the Ozzie-and-Harriet facade."

Enablers, he says, normally reject help and place all the problems on the person who is recovering. "While the addict is going through treatment, you still have the enabler who doesn't know how to change."

Marie left her boyfriend in the winter of 1984. She found him six months later on the floor, dead of a heroin overdose. Her sense of loss, she says, choked her. "I really missed him." She missed the family they had created together. "I wanted it back so badly. I started drinking and drugging like no tomorrow. I had never been like that -- I had never had a problem. I was losing clients, standing them up. Going on binges. I still fight looking back and missing it ... I quickly forgot how bad it was.

"I made the step over from enabling him to becoming him. I became a problem." Marie put herself into a detox center and has been clean and sober for a year.

Anne attends a Friends of Rap meeting every week in which she can talk to others in the same situation. "What helps me is to talk about it. I'm not embarrassed about it. It is not a reflection on me. My parents were devastated. But we are constructive citizens; we go to work; we go to church; we give to charities. And we came from the same upbringing as my brother."

Anne looks down at her hands and laughs in a hollow tone. "To think I used to brag about him. He was so handsome. At the bus stop before school, my friends would crowd around me just to get a look at him."

Now that her brother is enrolled in Rap Inc., her parents, she says, are cautiously optimistic. "It hasn't been long. He hurt them. They pray for him, we all do, but they know how manipulative he is. Six weeks is not a long period of time compared to 18 years."

Marie now advises anyone involved with a drug addict to get out. "When you love someone you are willing to do anything for them. Your reasoning gets so cloudy. I don't know how many times I put myself in really dangerous situations because he talked me into it.

"I'm angry now that I couldn't help him in time. I should have told his mother or his doctor right away and forced him into a long-term rehab. It had been too much for too long and all I could do was to bail out in a {half-baked} way. We kept seeing each other after I left. We still were keeping up appearances.

"They say there are only three places where people like that end up: death, institutions or jail. If you are helping someone who's like that, you'll end up there, too."

Nina Killham is on staff of The Post Food section; Len Cooper is a Washington free-lance writer.