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March 1, 2019
The Fine Line Between Helping And Enabling
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The Fine Line Between Helping And Enabling

Having a loved one who is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction can put certain pressures on you. You may want to help your loved one, but don’t know how. Or you may think you’re helping, but really you are enabling – contributing to his or her ability to use. Learn the difference to give your loved one the help he or she needs.

What Is Enabling?

Enabling someone with an addiction refers to giving that person the means to continue a substance use disorder. Many people have to hit a “rock bottom” before they will seek treatment for their addictions. If friends or family members help prevent a person from hitting rock bottom, that person may never feel the need to seek treatment or recover. Why bother getting sober if they have homes, food, jobs, or money?

It may seem like you are helping your loved one when you give him or her money to pay bills or get groceries, but in reality, you could be enabling an addiction. Learning how to draw the line can be difficult and may take help from a professional interventionist. You must learn how to distinguish between supporting and enabling. Otherwise, you could shield someone from experiencing the full consequences of their addictions – something that may be necessary to spark the desire to stop using.

Enabling Vs. Helping

Helping a child, sibling, or spouse overcome an addiction is not the same as enabling. Helping steers your loved one in the right direction – the direction toward sober living. Helping prevents someone with an addiction from consorting with the wrong people and getting into potentially dangerous situations, such as a drug overdose or alcohol poisoning. Helping is letting loved ones know you will be there for them when they decide to get sober or seek treatment. Helping is looking up the phone number for a local treatment center for assisted recovery.

Signs You Are An Enabler

It is important to recognize if you are an enabler. Otherwise, your behaviors could be contributing to someone else’s lack of seeking treatment. Although you cannot blame yourself for someone else’s battle with addiction, you can take steps to improve the odds of that person seeking treatment and entering into rehabilitation. The first step is learning how to recognize if you or someone in your family is an enabler.

You Fund Your Loved One’s Activities

Running out of money is a common reason people with addictions decide to seek treatment. The inability to pay bills, make rent, keep a roof over one’s head, pay child support, or keep up with car payments could force someone with a problem to ask for help. If you are lending money to someone you believe has a substance addiction, or if you are giving him or her a free place to live, you could be enabling him or her to continue buying drugs or alcohol without financial consequences.

You Make Excuses

Are you the one that calls your loved one’s boss when he or she is too hung-over to make it to work again? Making excuses for someone else’s addiction could be a sign that you’re an enabler. You are encouraging unhealthy behavior by shielding your loved one from real consequences, such as losing a job. It is not your responsibility to make excuses to your loved one’s friends, coworkers, bosses, or children.

You Ignore The Problem

Being in denial is a common trait of enablers. Denial is the refusal to accept that a friend or family member has a substance use problem. If you do not think your loved one needs treatment, or you believe he or she will quit using without professional help, you may be denying the seriousness of the problem. You could be in denial if any of the following are true:

  • You justify your loved one’s problems or behaviors.
  • You think it’s normal for your loved one to use drugs or alcohol after a stressful day at work.
  • You believe drug or alcohol use is temporary.
  • You avoid discussions or confrontations about the issue.
  • You don’t recommend any behavioral changes.

Ignoring the issue will not make it go away or take back the fact that your loved one needs professional help. In fact, ignoring the problem could lead to your loved one making dangerous mistakes, such as using more dangerous drugs or overdosing. Instead, face the issue with your friend or relative head-on.

You Blame Yourself

Enablers often begin their behaviors from places of shame, guilt, or blame. Many parents, for example, believe their children have substance use problems because of things that happened during childhood, such as a divorce. This can lead to parents trying to make up for it by enabling addiction or alcoholism. It is not your fault your loved one is struggling with an addiction. Alcohol and drugs are chemicals that change the way the brain works. Stop blaming yourself, and get your loved one the help he or she needs.

How To Help Without Enabling

It is possible to help your loved one overcome an addiction without becoming an enabler. The first step is not to tolerate the addiction or alcoholism. Tell your loved one you will not have substance use under your roof. Force your loved one to stand on his or her own two feet. Facing reality could help your loved one see he or she has a problem and needs help. Then, speak openly to your loved one about the addictive behaviors. Directly address distressing behaviors such as getting drunk every night, abusing prescription medications, or using illicit substances.

Next, make sure the individual is experiencing the consequences of his or her actions. Stop any protective habits, such as lying to relatives about the problem. Show your loved one the addiction’s real impact on the individual and those who love him or her. Insist that the person accepts responsibility for his or her actions, such as missing an important work meeting to get high. Recommend behavioral changes frequently.

Don’t be afraid of losing someone’s love by transitioning from enabler to helper. Continuing your enabling behaviors could lead to losing your loved one for good. Understand that you are doing what’s best for your relative or friend by putting an end to enabling habits. Most of all, help your loved one seek the drug or alcohol treatment he or she needs to overcome an addiction. Proposing treatment is one of the best things you can do for someone struggling with a substance abuse disorder.

Mike Loverde

Mike Loverde is a Certified Intervention Professional with more than 10 years of experience, and he is the founder and president of Intervention Helpline. He believes in taking a family-first approach to every intervention, and he created Intervention Helpline with the primary purpose of saving each family’s loved one before it is too late.

Furthermore, he is the primary writer for the Intervention Helpline Blog. He is always eager to share his insight and expertise on interventions, addiction treatment programs, rehab insurance coverage, relapse prevention and many other related topics.

Read the latest blog articles from the desk of Mike Loverde here, and don’t hesitate to contact if you have any questions or need intervention help now.

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