If you have a loved one who has a substance or alcohol abuse disorder, it can be difficult to know if what you are doing is helping or enabling their addiction. There is a fine line when it comes to helping and enabling your family member or friend. Of course you want the absolute best for your loved one, but it’s important to know the difference between actions that are helping and enabling. Take a closer look at some actions and behaviors that your loved one could benefit from or hinder their addiction.
Enabling vs. Helping: What’s the Difference?
The line between helping and enabling can often be blurred, but the major difference is when you are enabling your loved one, you are doing things for them that they could typically do themselves, if they were sober1. It’s normal to help your loved one with a routine task like cooking dinner when they are late coming home from work, but if this behavior becomes a pattern or they start missing out on planned events, there may be an underlying cause. Some examples of enabling include keeping secrets about their behavior, making excuses on their behalf, and bailing them out of trouble. Below are additional examples of enabling behavior.
Key behaviors of enabling include2:
- Ignoring or tolerating problematic behavior
- Loaning them money
- Covering for them or making excuses on their behalf
- Taking on more responsibilities
- Avoiding or denying that they have an issue
- Sacrificing your needs for theirs
- Not following through on consequences for repeated behavior
- Inability to maintain boundaries
These actions and behaviors cross the line from helping to enabling because your loved one doesn’t face the consequences of their actions. By protecting them, you are allowing their addiction to continue, rather than seek the help they actually need.
How to Stop Enabling
If you’ve been enabling your loved one, shifting your behavior is going to be difficult because it goes against all your previous actions. Don’t be afraid, there are many steps you can take to help shift your behavior and actions from enabling to helping. By doing so, you will be able to empower your loved one to make better decisions and better their mental health to combat their addiction.
Educate Yourself on Addiction
First things first, you need to take the time to educate yourself on addiction. Before you can approach your loved one about their substance or alcohol abuse disorder, you should conduct research on the following topics: addiction, detox, withdrawal, and treatment options3. The more you educate yourself, the more confident you will feel when you are ready to approach the situation. It’s extremely important to place yourself in your loved one’s shoes, to better understand what they are going through. Once you’ve taken the time to understand their situation, you can then let them know you are aware of the problem and offer them support.
Set Boundaries with Consequences
It’s extremely important to set boundaries with your loved one who suffers from addiction, that also have consequences if those boundaries are broken. Giving your loved one an ultimatum is not setting a boundary, rather letting them know you will not allow them to drink or do drugs in your home, is a specific boundary that can be actioned on. Explaining why you put these boundaries in place is also important, so that your friend or family member knows why this is unacceptable behavior. Additionally, you should start to detach yourself from the behavior. Detaching enables you to let go of another person’s behavior and allows you to look at the situation more subjectively1. This in turn, will allow you to set those boundaries and enforce consequences, such as taking away a privilege or something more drastic. Whatever you set as the consequence, you must be willing to do it or else the behavior will continue.
Suggest Getting Help
Encouraging a loved one to start the recovery process can be intimidating. It’s important to understand what problems they are facing prior to considering treatment, so you can make suggestions on what programs or options are available. If you have a better understanding of the issues they are facing, you will then be able to seek specific help, that can be catered to their needs. It’s also important to take care of your own mental health by joining a support group or seeking one-on-one counseling, to better equip yourself with the tools to navigate through this challenging time.
Whether you’re seeking care for yourself or for a loved one, the expert clinical team at All Points North Lodge is here to help you take the next step towards healing and recovery. We offer programs designed for addictions and mental health disorders. Nestled in the beautiful Rocky Mountains, APN Lodge offers a luxury rehab experience that offers the perfect environment for healing, personal growth, and recovery. Using evidence-based treatment approaches, our team of clinicians has the expertise to guide you through the process from referral through program completion.
To learn about all that the APN Lodge experience offers, reach out to one of our Contact Center team members at 866-525-9107. Let us help you find your way forward.
- T, Buddy. “How to Stop Enabling an Alcoholic or Addict.” Verywell Mind, Verywell Mind, 29 Aug. 2020, www.verywellmind.com/how-to-stop-enabling-an-alcoholic-63083.
- Raypole, Crystal. “What Is an Enabler? 11 Ways to Recognize One.” Enabler: Definition, Behavior, Psychology, Recognizing One…, Healthline, 27 June 2019, www.healthline.com/health/enabler.
- Henson, Priscilla. “How to Help an Addict That Doesn’t Want Help.” American Addiction Centers, 16 Mar. 2021, americanaddictioncenters.org/rehab-guide/how-to-help-an-addict-who-doesnt-want-help.