Helping a Loved One with Addiction: Supporting versus Enabling

February 20, 2019

When a loved one is struggling with addiction, it’s natural to want to help them. But trying to figure out what help to offer—how to support rather than enable—can be tricky. How do you tell the difference?

When you support someone, you empower them to make positive changes in their own life. When you enable them, you allow them to perpetuate their problems. Below are two common ways people enable their friends and family members, as well as suggestions to turn them into support instead.

Making excuses to yourself or others.

Telling yourself that your loved one is just going through a phase enables both of you to turn a blind eye to destructive behaviors. Making excuses or covering up by lying also only makes it easier for the problem to persist.

Try this instead:

Privacy certainly needs to be respected, but encourage your loved one to be honest about the problems they’re facing. Having the courage to face the reality of a situation is the first step towards being able to change it.

Taking over responsibilities.

People struggling with addiction often neglect basic duties like paying bills, cleaning the house, or taking the kids to appointments. While it’s tempting to step in and take care of things yourself, this only makes it easier for the person you’re trying to help to avoid responsibility for their actions.

Try this instead:

Make it clear that the only person responsible for the consequences of your loved one’s actions is that person themselves. Instead of taking over, help your friend or family member develop a plan for fulfilling their responsibilities. If they fail, encourage them to try again. Offer to be someone they can be accountable to, but not someone who will take over the things they need to be doing.

It can be hard to watch your loved one struggle, and even harder to allow them to live with the consequences of addiction and poor decisions. Remember, enabling isn’t true help: it only makes it easier for someone to keep hurting themselves. You can offer real help by paying attention, expressing confidence in your loved one’s ability to change, and supporting them as they make those changes to free themselves from addiction.

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