Seeing someone you love suffering from an addiction to drugs or alcohol is a painful experience. You want to help them. You want to fix things and stop their suffering. Learning how to support your loved one without enabling them is a crucial part of navigating their addiction and its effects on your life.
What is the Difference Between Supporting and Enabling?
When you support or help someone, you are assisting them with something that they are not able to do alone, or you are doing something that helps them gain control of their behaviors and life. When you enable someone, you are preventing them from having to deal with any negative consequences resulting from their actions.
When someone who is suffering from addiction does not have to face the consequences of their substance use, they will have no motivation to change.
Are you Enabling Instead of Supporting?
Sometimes, trying to help a loved one struggling with a substance use disorder leads to harm rather than good. For example, if your significant other has a hangover and you call off work for them, you are enabling their irresponsible behavior. In this case, let your loved one decide how to handle missing work, even if it puts them in danger of losing their job.
Here are more examples of how people enable their addicted loved one rather than supporting them.
- Giving them money to buy drugs or alcohol or getting the substance for them. Sometimes loved ones do this because they are afraid the person will use dangerous or illegal ways to get the money they need. Even so, this kind of behavior will only encourage further substance use.
- Paying their bills and expenses for them because they are spending their money on substances and/or are unemployed because they cannot hold down a job.
- Providing them with a place to live without having them make any meaningful contributions or pay rent.
- Shielding them from negative consequences by lying for them.
- Paying their legal fees or fines, or bailing them out of jail.
- Downplaying how severe their problem is and the effects it has on everyone around them.
- Making excuses for their behavior or blaming other people or circumstances for their behavior.
Perhaps the worst consequence of enabling your loved one in their addiction is that you neglect your own needs, sacrificing your time, money, well-being, and even your safety.
Supporting Your Loved One
If your loved one is in active addiction, it is essential you refrain from being an enabler. Ask your loved one to get treatment. If they refuse, set boundaries about what you will and will not do for them (e.g., you won’t provide financial support, you will not allow substance use in your home, etc.), and stick to those boundaries.
Consider seeking therapy for yourself so you can have professional guidance during this time. And consider attending support groups like Al-Anon, which are designed for friends and family of people who are suffering from addiction.
So what can you do to help your loved one that will not enable them?
- Learn about addiction and recovery. Remember, addiction is a chronic brain disease, not a choice or a moral failing. By being aware of how drugs or alcohol change their brain, you will understand why your loved one cannot just stop drinking alcohol or using drugs without help.
- Encourage the person to seek help. You might even find treatment facilities for them and offer to help with child care or other responsibilities while they are in treatment.
- Set a good example by living a healthy life and giving up alcohol or recreational drugs.
- Do not use drugs or drink alcohol around your loved one or have substances in your home. If your loved one enters treatment, be sensitive to potential relapse triggers.
- As much as possible, have fun together. Doing healthy activities together may help the person feel more incentive to break their addictive patterns.
- Communicate openly and honestly. Let your loved one know you are always available to talk to them about things they may have difficulty with. Be non-confrontational and nonjudgmental, even as you remain firm about your boundaries.
Do Not Struggle Alone
If you or someone you care about has a drug or alcohol addiction, now is the time to get help. Located in Terre Haute, Indiana, Anabranch Recovery Center has skilled professionals who will answer your questions and guide you through your journey to recovery. Take the first step. Contact us today.
About the Author:
Terry Hurley is a retired educational professional and freelance writer with more than fifty years of experience. A former reading specialist and learning center director, Terry loved her years working with children in the educational field. She has written extensively for print and online publications specializing in education and health issues. For the last six years, her writing focus has been on addiction and mental health issues.