Helping Vs. Enabling a Loved One with A Substance Abuse Problem

Watching a family member struggle with alcohol or drug addiction can be difficult. While substance abuse is a serious and life-threatening disease, we sometimes don’t want to admit or accept that they have a problem. It can be easy to sweep the issue under the rug or make excuses for their behavior. But ultimately, we are harming them even more when we do so. It is also natural to want to help a loved one struggling with substance abuse. We “help” by taking actions that bail them out of discomfort, instead of pushing them towards a healthy solution. Often, when we try to help, we are actually worsening the situation by enabling them.

Difference between helping and enabling

Since enabling behaviors can often look like helping behaviors, it’s important to understand the difference between helping and enabling behavior. Enabling is when we do something for a loved one that while well-meaning, may allow them to remain in their substance abuse and unhealthy behavior longer. When we enable a loved one’s addiction, we are allowing them to continue self-destructive behaviors by often hiding their problems entirely leading to negative consequences. Contrarily, when you help a person with substance abuse, you are giving them an opportunity to get healthy and supporting them in that process. An example of enabling is making excuses for a loved one after they get a DUI, or justifying their substance abuse and bad behavior. An example of helping is providing love, and supporting someone in getting sober through a structured recovery program.

What are some examples of enabling behaviors?

Coming to the aid of a loved one when the consequences of addiction set in

Rather than let them face the natural consequences of their actions, you come to their aid and ultimately enable their addiction.

Partaking in triggering behaviors in front of them

Whether it’s a holiday, a celebration, or even a casual dinner, drinking or smoking weed in front of someone who is struggling with addiction can be very triggering and ultimately cause them to continue with their substance use problem.

Minimizing the situation or avoiding the problem altogether

Thinking that things will sort themselves out by ignoring the problem is a way a loved one can enable addiction.

Enduring with and justifying the addiction

Acknowledging that their life stressors or mental health issues are reasonable reasons to drink or use drugs and not confronting them about how their use can lead to serious consequences is another means of enabling their behavior.

5 Ways the entire family can help instead of enabling an addict

Below are five ways to help a loved one struggling with substance abuse, instead of enabling.

Instead ofTry
Making excuses for their addictive behaviorsBeing honest about how their behaviors have impacted you
Bailing them out from problems they get themselves intoHold them accountable for their own actions
Turning a blind eye to unacceptable behaviorsSetting healthy boundaries and honoring them when there are boundary violations
Avoiding confronting them about the problemHelping them find the right kind of professional help and addiction treatment
Impeding yourself from feeling uncomfortable emotionsAllowing yourself to feel these emotions

You can also help a loved one through empowerment. Encourage and empower them to find recovery by:

  • Connecting them with effective addiction professionals and support groups
  • Connecting them with a structured and positive peer support system
  • Helping an addicted loved one seek treatment for their addiction

Consider New Life House Sober Living in California as a treatment option

At New Life House, we provide the support and guidance to help young men become happy, independent adults. With our healthy structure, unparalleled life skills support, one of the largest young adult recovery communities in the nation, and an immense focus on family, we help young men, and their family members, find long-lasting success in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction.

Last Updated on November 17, 2022


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