As humans, we all want the best for our loved ones. We want to help them succeed in any way we can. But, when does helping cross the line into enabling? When we are dealing with a family member or loved one suffering from addiction, it can be difficult to know.

What does it mean to enable someone?

Simply put, you are helping someone when you are doing something for them that they cannot do themselves. If you are doing something that the person can and should do for themselves, you are enabling. Bringing meals to your friend who is ill or who just had a baby is helping them. Driving a friend to the airport or giving them a ride to work when their car is in the shop is helping them out. Letting an adult (even if it’s your grown child) live in your spare bedroom without contributing to the household in any way is enabling. While people who enable others have pure intentions, in reality enabling behavior is extremely harmful. This is especially true when it comes to addiction.

Helping vs enabling – how to tell?

Are you helping or enabling your friend or family member? Here are five signs that your “help” has become enabling:

1. You make excuses for someone else

Phrases like, “he’s going through a phase,” or “She doesn’t mean to act that way,” are common. If you are fighting someone else’s battles or making excuses so that they don’t have to face the consequences of their own behavior, you are enabling.

2. Taking on their responsibilities

Doing housework for them, paying their bills, or running their errands only frees up time for them to drink or use drugs. If your loved one is neglecting their responsibilities, it’s time to have a talk.

3. Rescuing them from sticky situations

Whether it’s literally bailing them out of jail, telling lies to cover for them, or giving them money to pay their bills, helping an addict avoid consequences for the behavior simply furthers that behavior.

4. Avoiding conflict or difficult conversations

If you are putting off the difficult conversation about your loved one’s substance abuse problem because you don’t want to have a conflict, you are enabling the behavior. Unfortunately, the disease of addiction will likely make this conversation even harder than you thought. However, the only way to overcome an addiction problem is to face facts.
helping vs enabling

5. Putting their needs before your own

If your physical or mental health is suffering, or if your own obligations are on the back burner in favor of the other person’s, you are enabling them to your own detriment. It’s far healthier for you to take care of your own needs first.

How to stop enabling?

If you recognize any of the patterns above, it’s time to gently put a stop to the enabling behavior. Unless the addict faces the consequences of his or her actions, they’ll never know how bad their problem is and, therefore, will never be motivated to fix it. If possible, have a conversation with the person while they are sober to let them know that X behavior is coming to an end: “This is the last time I’m going to be able to lend you money. Please don’t ask me again.” Or, “From this point forward, I’m not able to make excuses for you if you’re too hungover to attend family functions.” Once you have these boundaries in place, stick to them. It can be difficult to change your ways, and extremely hard to stick to your guns knowing your loved one will suffer the consequences. However, that’s the most helpful thing you can do for them at that moment. Once they are ready to admit they have a problem, then you can step in to help. If you suspect that you are struggling with substance abuse or addiction, help is available to you. Alternately, if you yourself do not have a substance abuse problem but you are struggling to help a loved one battling addiction, resources are available to you, too. Beating addiction requires a lot of help, and a qualified addiction specialist at United Recovery Project can point you in the right direction. Contact us today to learn more about your options.