Watching someone battling to overcome a substance abuse disorder can be agonizing, especially for family members and close friends. While most people want to do whatever they can to help, a big problem arises when the desire to help actually begins to enable the bad behavior.
When it comes to alcoholism and drug addiction, there is a fine line between helping and enabling. When we enable a drug addict or alcoholic, we could be making the problem worse. Learn how to support your loved one through their recovery journey without enabling self-destructive habits.
Spotting an Enabler
A way to view the difference between enabling and helping someone suffering from an addiction is to look at the two basic definitions. To enable means to make able or authorize some behavior or act. Enabling someone or something is akin to making it easier.
Often, being an enabler to an addict or an alcoholic equips them with the feelings or sense of approval that they don't need to change. Enabling an addict or alcoholic hands them a way to continue abusing themselves and those around them without consequences.
Enabling as a Family Member
Enabling behavior by parents or family members can be exceedingly hard to overcome. We love the person so dearly; we often cannot envision our behavior as enabling. The problem is, by enabling the person and avoiding tough love, we may be a part of leading them down a troubling path.
Common Enabling Actions
When we are truthful about the potential consequences of continued substance abuse, it sheds a different light on what our goals should be. Enabling can be counterproductive when it comes to helping someone with an addiction — even if you're just trying to help.
Here are some things we do to help that could actually enable a loved one suffering from addiction:
Giving Them Money
This is a common theme among close friends and family of addicts and alcoholics. We must, as difficult as it might be, avoid handing over money.
The excuses and reasons an addict will give for needing cash are endless. Unfortunately, many addicts may be untruthful about what the money you're sending them will go towards. The addict or alcoholic may feel bad about lying, but they want the money more than they value their dignity.
Offering Them a Place to Stay
Some people struggling to get clean and sober may need a place to stay. Like handing out money, turning an addict or alcoholic away can be especially challenging for a family member.
However, there must be a definitive reason when we do give someone a place to stay. Active drinking or drug use must be discussed. If the person is not in some type of recovery program, abusing drugs or alcohol must result in an immediate end to the arrangement.
This can provide an incentive to work on a recovery program seriously. Most people consider rent and other living obligations a responsibility; when we provide free accommodations to someone with an addiction, we prevent them from learning this valuable life skill.
Fixing Their Problems
This is another difference between enabling and helping someone in addiction. Too often, we feel it is our duty to help fix the problems that their addiction is creating. We do not allow them to learn from their mistakes.
The necessity to change, because of painful consequences, is erased. It can be extremely hard, for instance, to leave someone arrested for drug or alcohol abuse in jail. We want to help pay their fines or lessen the burden.
Helping, on the other hand, is based on an act of support. Let's look at some things we can do to help instead of to enable someone suffering from an addiction.
How to Help an Addict or Alcoholic
When we help an addict or alcoholic, we should be focused on providing the tools necessary to accomplish something. In this instance, it is finding a course of action to live clean and sober. Knowing how to help can be invaluable.
This may be the most important thing we can do for an addict or alcoholic. When we stop enabling, we can focus on helping. Helping someone suffering from a substance abuse disorder often means encouraging them to seek help, not to try to help themselves.
This can be hard, especially at first. There are such courses of action as interventions, or you may offer to attend a recovery fellowship meeting together. It's important to encourage them to seek help.
Establish Personal Boundaries
Setting firm boundaries will not only help us deal with the disease of addiction, but it ultimately helps the sufferer. We need to be firm with our commitment to restricting unnecessary financial support — often called tough love.
You may consider establishing personal boundaries for your home, money, and assistance while still being supportive of your loved one's journey to recovery.
Support Their Recovery
Once we begin to encourage someone to seek help, we are beginning to support their pathway in recovery. Handing someone a treatment center phone number may be the first step, but it is not the end.
We need to step back in some instances and allow treatment to do its job. However, we need to be supportive. Ask how the treatment is going. Inquire how the person feels about their treatment. If possible, attend family interventions and special events. Show a sincere indication that you value their decision to seek help and that you support them one hundred percent.
Why It's So Important to Be a Helper, Not an Enabler
When we consider the different outcomes that happen when we enable as opposed to when we try to help, the differences become clear. However, the biggest difference is that an enabler can actually make an addict's struggle harder.
When they are given no opportunity to take responsibility for their behavior, or the consequences of that behavior, any urgency to change is diluted. Helpers point to a goal, while enablers reinforce bad behavior.
The most helpful thing anyone can do for someone suffering from a substance abuse disorder is to encourage them to ask for help. That single suggestion, if acted upon, could save their life.
Holistic Addiction Treatment in Chattanooga
At Chattanooga Recovery Center in Tennessee, our treatment programs were designed to impact every aspect of your life. In order to offer our residents the best in sustained recovery, our facility has broadened our focus beyond traditional therapy and treatment methods to include the positive effects of nature, self-care, and helping others.