The Differences Between Helping and Enabling Addiction
At The River Source, we understand more than most: It can be unbearably hard when someone you love is struggling with drugs and alcohol. You care about them and want to help them however you can, but you don’t want to make it easier for them to use substances that are hurting them. You don’t want to push too hard, and you don’t want to let It keep happening. What can you do?
There are important differences between helping someone with substance abuse and enabling their addiction, and it can often be difficult for loved ones to manage this balancing act. Here are some distinctions to keep in mind so you can support someone with addiction issues in a productive way.
How Are Enabling and Supporting Different?
Family and friends play a significant role in helping their loved ones overcome addiction, but it can be tricky to tell when you’re doing long-term harm for short-term good.
What does supporting mean? Supporting someone includes helping them with things they aren’t able to do themselves, or things that allow them to manage their life better. It is more about filling in than solving problems for them.
What does enabling mean? Enabling someone is protecting them from the negative consequences of their actions. They will begin to expect or even outright demand your assistance, which in turn will lead to you burning yourself out.
You can change any enabling behaviors into more supportive behaviors: if you’re driving them around town, tell them you will take them to work or to therapy sessions, but that’s it. Let them know you’re there for them and will help them get better, but you won’t endure abuse or aiding their use.
Making Excuses for Their Behavior
Making excuses for your loved one’s behavior due to alcohol or substance addiction is understandable: you love them, and you want to try to make up for their actions to protect them. In many ways, you’re also convincing yourself that things are OK. However, these excuses only offer you a false sense of protection, and don’t help them in the long run — they may need to face the results of their actions to realize that they need to change. Allow yourself to let them see consequences.
Putting Your Own Needs Behind Theirs
If you find yourself picking up the slack for every way someone isn’t taking care of themselves, you will burn yourself out. It’s important to remember to meet your own needs, even if sometimes that means saying “no” to some people or offers. Otherwise, they’ll get used to a certain amount of protection or work being done that they can’t actually do for themselves.
Compromising Your Own Beliefs or Morals to Assist Them
In the course of loving someone with addiction issues, you may find yourself letting them do things you feel are morally wrong in order to keep them close to you and under your protection, such as turning a blind eye when they steal or drive under the influence. It’s important to keep track of your own moral compass and, if situations like these are starting to occur, take a step back. You want to protect them, but you should trust your own judgement and, if necessary, stick to what you know is right.
Operating Without Set Boundaries and Limits
It’s crucial to set boundaries and let your loved one know what you will do for them — or perhaps just as importantly, what you won’t do for them. For example, tell them you’re more than happy to help them with transportation to get to work, school, or important appointments, but not anything else. Or give them goods they need, such as food and soap, rather than money to go get those things. These actions help establish healthy, acceptable norms and expectations as a starting point.
Get Help Supporting Loved Ones Who Are Addicted at The River Source
At The River Source, we help teach families how to support without enabling their loved ones, and other advice to help them navigate life in recovery. We provide resources such as family therapy to teach you ways to set healthy boundaries, expand your support network, and keep your lives on track. You and your loved one will always have backup thanks to our The River Source Alumni Group, our fellowship of people in recovery.
If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, we can assist, and we make getting help simple through an easy admissions process. Contact us today!