Riding the Thin Line Between Helping and Enabling Behavior

There are many times the help that those addicted to drugs or alcohol receive from family actually does more damage than good. Family and loved ones of the addicted must understand the difference in helping and enabling so that they do not engage in perpetuating the cycle of addiction. Family members must understand proper ways to help their loved ones without performing enabling behavior. The Discovery Institute provides family counseling sessions for families and loved ones of patients in addiction treatment so that they understand the difference between helping and enabling the individual addicted in their life.

What is Enabling?

Enabling is when someone provides a means for an addicted individual to continue their habit of drug abuse. Enabling can come in many forms. Some different forms of enabling can include:

  • Providing financial aid for an addicted individual even if they say it is not for drugs.
  • Ignoring their drug use even if they had said they would quit.
  • Providing assistance with an addicted individual’s personal responsibilities.
  • Paying for an addicted individual’s bail when they get arrested.
  • Making excuses for an addicted individual’s words or actions.
  • Calling into an addicted individual’s place of work so they do not have to attend.

Although in the moment, it may seem like these things will help an addicted loved one. Where would they sleep if I don’t give them a place to go? How would they pay for food if I did not give them money? These thoughts may be running through your mind, but they indeed perpetuate the cycle of addiction in your loved one’s life. The truth is that your loved one will never turn to help for their addiction until it is the last option on their list. If you keep giving them a reason to use, they will take that reason and run with it each and every time.

How Can I Stop Enabling Behavior?

Of course, there are situations in which you must help your loved one for the sake of their own health and safety. That is where the thin line of helping and enabling comes to play. You must use your own discretion when deciding which decisions you make and how they will affect your loved one in the short or long-term. Always remember that if they are not open to getting treatment, they will not decide to unless they hit rock bottom. Small things you can do to change your enabling behavior are to not pick up after your loved one, go through with plans even if your loved one bails, and not allow your loved one to place you in dangerous situations at any cost. If you follow through with your plans to not enable the addict that you love, they will be more likely to identify the consequences of their addictive behavior and seek help for himself or herself. After all, no one can decide to go to treatment except the person who needs it.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MD

Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MDDr. Jeffrey Berman is a psychiatrist in Teaneck, New Jersey and is affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. He received his medical degree from State University of New York Upstate Medical University and has been in practice for more than 20 years. He also speaks multiple languages, including French and Hebrew.

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