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Enabling vs Helping: What’s the Difference?

Helping helps, it is said. Enabling hurts. When we see a loved one struggling with addiction to drugs and alcohol, we want to help in anyway we can. We want to take away their pain, prevent them from being hurt, quiet their tears, and do what we can to make things better. What we define as “better” can become blurred when our helping habits turn into enabling habits. Too often we are convinced we are helping, blinding ourselves to the reality that we are enabling.

Help can be defined as making something easier for someone by offering your services or resources. At first, the definition of helping might seem as though it could be applied negatively to the way you would support your loved one with addiction. You might be making it easier for your loved one to abuse drugs and alcohol. Looking at the definition of enabling emphasizes the stark contrast. Enabling can be defined as giving someone “the authority or means to do something”. We want to enable recovery. We want to give our loved ones the authority and the means to do something positive for their lives. Most often when we enable we are giving our loved ones the authority or means to continue using drugs and alcohol.

How do we know if we are helping or enabling? The answer does not lie in whether or not our loved one is continuing to use drugs and alcohol. Friends and family members have to realize that nothing they do will “make” their loved one use drugs and alcohol, or not use drugs and alcohol. Instead, the answer lies in how we feel after we engage in our personal behaviors regarding our loved one and their addiction. If your behaviors leave you feeling resentful because you are taking on a responsibility that doesn’t belong to you- literally and figuratively- you are likely enabling. You put aside your needs to meet the needs of your loved one and their addiction. You spend exorbitant amounts of time and energy on trying to ‘help’, fix, solve, remedy, or mask your loved ones problems related to their addiction.

Common forms of enabling an addiction

  • Making excuses for your loved one’s behaviors and choices
  • Lying on behalf of your loved one in order to cover up their behavior and choices
  • Giving your loved one money when they ask for it, even though you know the money is going to more drugs and alcohol
  • Volunteering for the responsibilities they are unable to fulfill due to the effects of their addiction
  • Consistently coming to the rescue in a way that prevents your loved one from fully facing the consequences of their addiction
  • Chronically placing the numerous needs of your loved one and their addiction above your own, sometimes to a harmful degree for both you and them

Enabling can be stopped and your loved one can be helped. Together, your family can heal and embark upon the journey of recovery.

At Tree House Recovery, we’re helping men find freedom from addiction. Our treatment programs create sustainable change for sustainable recovery by helping men find their strength in body, mind, and spirit. For information on our Orange County programs, call us today: (855) 202-2138

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