Are you helping or enabling a loved one's addiction?

It is very often the case that when we find out a loved one has an addiction we help them. However there is much confusion with the blurry lines between ‘helping’ and ‘enabling’ in this kind of situation. When ‘helping’ a loved one or friend we are actively doing something to better their life that they cannot do at that moment in time. This can range from a multitude of things, such as finding them an appropriate rehabilitation centre or counselling or encouraging them to go to 12-step group meetings. These are all constructive actions that are proactive in helping the addict move away from their addiction into their recovery path.

On the other hand there is ‘enabling’. This can easily be misconstrued as helping as you still carry out tasks on behalf of a loved one but they are things that they could actually do for themselves or in fact things that they should be doing but can’t due to their addiction. Instances of enabling can include calling in sick for a loved one because they were too hung-over to make it to work or to an appointment or bailing them out of jail and paying legal fees that were a result of their addiction. There are many other ways that you may be enabling an addict and they can include: giving an addict one more chance (over and over again), giving threats to leave an alcoholic or addict if they don't stop their abusive habits, but failing to do so, participating  with an addict in their addiction, such as drinking with them, in the hope of strengthening your relationship with them, evading talking about an addict's drinking or drug addiction in fear of their response, finishing a job or project for an addict who was unable to complete it him or herself or paying bills or loaning an alcoholic/addict money.   It is incredibly important that your loved one can accept their addiction and are held solely responsible for his or her own actions and/or consequences that have occurred as a result of their addiction.  Whilst an addict has someone there enabling them to continue their addiction and helping manage their life they will never reach a realisation of how badly their addiction is affecting and ultimately damaging their lives and the lives of others around them. This will also sustain an addict's denial as enabling is masking the true effects of their addiction. It is very important to keep in mind that whilst you think that you are helping a loved one such well-meant action is in fact detrimental to their drug or alcohol problem. Enabling will allow an addict to just continue their anti-social and harmful actions as they are being allowed to constantly avoid the real consequences of their actions. It is completely understandable as to why people ‘enable’ their loved ones with their addiction as it is very difficult to see a person close to you experience such difficulty but you are stopping an addict from reaching rock bottom which, as hard as it may be to witness, is sometimes necessary in order to be able to overcome addiction and recover.

The Haynes Clinic is an alcohol and drug rehabilitation centre which offers detox and counselling for drug and alcohol problems. Call 01462 851414 for free and confidential advice.