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Enabling and Supporting – What Does Help Look Like?

Published On: 29 September 2020

If someone you love is struggling with addiction it’s natural to want to help in any way possible. The trouble is the fine line between supporting and enabling, and many times it is unclear where this line lies. Often it can be very difficult to see the line at all. Because of that people frequently end up on the wrong side of the line and don’t even know it. What is the difference between supporting and enabling an addict? What can you do to be the best support possible? We discuss these questions and more in this article. 

Enabling And Supporting - What Does Help Look Like?

What is Enabling?

In one sense, “enabling” has the same meaning as “empowering.” It means lending a hand to help people accomplish things they could not do by themselves. More recently, however, it has developed the specialized meaning of offering help that perpetuates rather than solves a problem. 

Whether it is alcohol, other selfish behavior, or general irresponsibility, allowing someone to continue to choose damaging behaviors by being passive, or assisting in them through your own actions, only deepens the damage. When your intention is to help, acting as an enabler does just the opposite.

Making excuses for someone with an addiction denies the reality of the problem, and is a sure sign of enabling is denial or avoidance. If you’re an enabler, you choose not to confront the addict because you fear conflict. Instead, you may find yourself making excuses for the addict’s behavior and convince yourself that the problem will just go away on its own.

the Difference between Enabling and Supporting – Are you doing these things? 

When faced with the question of whether your actions or offers to help are considered being supportive or enabling, there are a few things you can ask yourself to determine for certain. If you help, will it prevent him from taking responsibility for his own actions? Will helping allow her to use or drink? Will it prevent him from hitting bottom? If you are constantly holding up your loved one to keep him from finally hitting bottom, you are doing both of you a disservice. 

  • Have you ever ‘called in sick’ for the addict because they were too high or hung over to go to work or school?
  • Have you ever made up excuses for the addict’s using/drinking or behavior?
  • Have you blamed yourself for the addict’s self-destructive ways?
  • Do you avoid talking to the addict about their ways because you fear their response?
  • Do you give the addict money to buy drugs or alcohol?
  • Have you repeatedly said the words, ‘one more chance’ or ‘this is your last chance’, but never follow through with them?
  • Do you often ignore unacceptable behavior?
  • Do you find yourself resenting the responsibilities you take on?
  • Do you consistently put your own needs and desires aside in order to help someone else?
  • Do you have trouble expressing your own emotions?
  • Do you promote or not discourage codependent behavior?

While reaching out to help a loved one in need is certainly not a bad thing, there’s a fine line between enabling and supporting, especially when it comes to addiction. Those who enable have good intentions, but they’re actually contributing to the problem rather than solving it. If you find yourself answering “Yes.” do the above questions, it’s important to take a deeper look at ways enabling and supporting are very different.

What is Supporting?

Supporting a loved one who has an addiction, whether to alcohol, drugs, gambling, or something else, can be tough. But there are ways to help in the best way possible. By definition enabling and supporting are very similar. However, the difference is the ways you choose to assist. The key is to be able to immediately recognize the difference so your best intentions aren’t inadvertently allowing your loved one to use or drink. One of the best ways to be a supporter is to help the addicted get the proper help he or she needs. 

Ways to Help Support An Addict 

Educate yourself of addiction and recovery. Knowledge is power and as a support for an addict you should be well versed on the ways addiction affects everyone involved. Addiction and alcoholism are very complex, and recovery is one of the greatest challenges of most individuals’ lives. The best way a loved one can help an addict is to educate themselves on the many aspects of addiction and recovery, and enabling and supporting. These include things such as potential triggers, health issues, enablement, the recovery process, and the psychological changes that addiction causes. 

  • Simply going to an addiction treatment facility is not a cure.
  • Sobriety isn’t the same as recovery. 
  • Switching from one drug to another is still an addiction.
  • Relapse isn’t necessarily a part of recovery – but it does happen. 
  • Positivity. Period. 

Make changes to support sobriety. Addiction affects everyone, and as an addict enters sobriety a supporter will need to also make certain changes to help. The first months after rehab are the most crucial and there are things you can do to ensure its success. 

  • Begin by removing all addictive substances from the home. 
  • Avoid situations where substances will occur, such as parties and other large gatherings
  • Help create relationships with sober friends 
  • Show enthusiasm for sober activities you can do together

Help your loved one follow all treatment recommendations. People with an addiction disorder are highly sensitive to the effects of drugs and alcohol. Even small amounts can make symptoms worse and trigger relapses, but when leaving a recovery center there are things you can do to support their success. You can support follow-through by doing these things. 

  • Helping your loved one remember to take all prescribed medications for one or both disorders
  • Listening to any concerns about medications — such as their purpose, benefits, and side effects — and helping address those concerns
  • Making sure appointments with treatment providers are kept
  • Working with the treatment team to stay informed and help address any issues related to medication

Above all else the most important thing you can do to properly support a person in recovery is to remember life takes softness and strength. You are doing a great thing by being a support. 

How Addiction Affects Supporters

As addiction grows, loved ones often find themselves giving more of themselves than is fair. It’s important to remember not to go so far that you are being unfair to yourself. This is a part of the dangerous line between enabling and supporting, too. 

Maybe your child is dealing with a prescription painkiller addiction, or our spouse becomes enraged when drinking too much. Perhaps your friend’s seemingly harmless experimentation with illicit drugs has spiraled into a full-blown addiction. Addiction affects the entire family, not just the person with addiction. Here are some ways to take care of yourself while caring for someone in recovery: 

  • Focus on your creative energy. Find things that give your life meaning and devote yourself to them.
  • Find your purpose. Connect with a higher power and/or discover a greater good to identify with.
  • Find a support network. Knowing that you’re not alone can be beneficial for those dealing with addiction — whether it be the person with substance use disorder, or their friends and family
  • Relinquish Control. Knowing that someone you love is struggling with addiction can be a daunting reality. But someone else’s behavior is not something that you can control. While you can encourage and support them, you ultimately can’t make the choice to seek help for them.
  • Work to strengthen your mental clarity and personal character. This will help you make sound judgments when dealing with your addict/alcoholic.

Addiction is a terrible condition, and it is especially terrible for the loved ones that live with an addict or alcoholic. We understand that as a family member or friend of an addict, it is a difficult task to provide continuous support. However, knowing the line between enabling and supporting is a tough task on your own. It’s important to learn how to redirect the efforts that are presumed to be helpful, but can actually be harmful. There is no step by step instruction manual for working through recovery, but with the right knowledge, a supporter can help ensure success. 

Enabling And Supporting - Are You Ready To Help?

Enabling and Supporting – Are you ready to help?

If someone you know is still struggling with addiction, there are many ways that you can help. Take a hard look at the support you are providing, and if you suspect you may be enabling now is the time to stop. When you are ready to take the first step towards the biggest help possible, contact our team at Daylight Recovery Center. Our team is here to help kick start long term healing and help YOU, the supporter, along the way.

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