How to Determine the Difference Between Helping and Enabling?

If you are caring for a loved one recovering from addiction, your intentions are pure. However, your actions may inadvertently enable your loved one, hindering their recovery. Enabling occurs when family members condition themselves into thinking they can control the addiction or minimize the risks. Such behavior often results in a dysfunctional dynamic where your actions support your loved one’s addiction rather than discouraging it.

If you are questioning whether your actions are helpful or enabling, there are ways to identify the difference. Let’s look at the distinctions between each to help you determine your role in your loved one’s recovery.

What is Enabling?

Enabling occurs when you inadvertently support your loved one’s substance use through your thoughts and behaviors; this creates a cushion in recovery, preventing them from facing the consequences of their substance use. Enabling a loved one in recovery may be viewed as condoning their behavior, leading to a lack of respect for yourself and consequently a lack of respect from your loved one.

Enablement is counterintuitive in that it perpetuates permissive attitudes toward substance use and even deteriorates your loved one’s desire to continue therapy and treatment altogether. Without these critical resources, your loved one may find themselves looking to drugs to cope. When they turn to undesirable methods to cope, such as using substances, it is likely that they will try to conceal such behaviors from you.

Signs that you might be enabling include:

  • Denial
  • Justification
  • Allowing substance use
  • Avoidance
  • Assuming responsibility
  • Suppressing feelings

Risks of Codependency

Substance addiction is a disease that affects individuals and their families. Creating a dysfunctional dynamic built upon enabling may contribute to codependency, a compulsive and self-destructive behavior that compromises healthy relationships. Codependent individuals may forgo their needs to care for themselves and their family properly. Such behaviors create more challenges in managing addiction and damage the structure of the relationship. Developing this kind of relationship can feed denial, implement negative coping tools, and ultimately lead to you and your loved one becoming void of emotions and feelings altogether.

How to Help

If your involvement in your loved one’s recovery is concerning, there are steps both of you can take that will change the dynamic of your relationship. When you work on changing enabling behaviors, you nurture your relationship and offer your loved one a better opportunity for a lasting recovery. One of the best ways you can educate yourself while showing support is by attending meetings together.

12-step programs such as AA or NA allow family members to join meetings. Through listening to other experiences, you can learn about addiction as a disease and how to be an ally in their recovery. Regularly attending these meetings will also help you both remain motivated, accountable, and supportive through any challenges you may face in the future.

Set Boundaries

Sustaining a healthy environment in recovery requires setting boundaries for both you and your loved one and sticking to them. Doing so helps ensure that the addiction does not engulf your lives. Setting clear boundaries minimizes stress by encouraging communication within the relationship. Such boundaries determine what you and your loved one are and are not willing to accept.

Additionally, making excuses or lying for your loved one instead of setting boundaries cultivates low self-esteem and may convey that you think their needs are unmanageable. However difficult, you must learn to say “no” and work with them to correct negative behaviors. You must also respect their needs and boundaries that create stress and anxiety in their life. Examples of setting good boundaries include:

  • Maintaining a substance-free environment
  • Having your loved one find work to develop financial independence
  • Delegating household chores and responsibilities, including running errands
  • Learning to say “no”

Fully Commit to Therapy

Recovery is a lifelong commitment for your loved one and their close circle. Enabling can trigger a relapse, so it’s essential to commit to therapy and treatment with your loved one to establish a healthy relationship and maintain it through lifelong recovery. Utilizing the benefits of family therapy also strengthens a healthy family dynamic that protects against addiction. Family therapy is also a great resource to address underlying issues that may be deep-seeded or traumatic.

Additionally, committing to therapy does not solely mean that you always need to be present. Taking time to practice self-care and seeking individual therapy are great ways to express and process your feelings. Taking these measures will not only help keep you from becoming resentful or frustrated with your loved one. It will also provide you with coping mechanisms to remain focused, motivated, and working on building a healthy recovery for you and your loved one.

Enabling can occur even with the best intentions. However, educating yourself on the differences and risks between enabling and helping is essential for the wellness of you and your loved one. If you are currently struggling to develop a relationship that promotes health and wellbeing, then the time to seek help is now. At Choice House, we focus on men’s mental health needs, and many of our programs operate by incorporating family needs. Our family programs help men and their loved ones express their emotions in a healthy and secure environment. With 24/7 admissions, there is never an inopportune time to reach out. Remember, the road to recovery is not just a journey for the individual but for their whole family. Start your and your loved one’s journey today. Find out more by calling Choice House at (720) 577-4422

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