Do you have a loved one dealing with addiction? It’s natural to want to assist them in overcoming their substance abuse issues. However, if your attempts have not succeeded, it’s essential to consider whether you’re genuinely helping or enabling them. Here, we’ll explore the difference between helping and enabling, which is crucial for everyone, particularly friends and family of addicts, to understand.

What Is Enabling?

Enabling involves doing things for someone that they should do for themselves. For instance, if your loved one can’t pay rent due to spending their money on drugs, enabling would be paying their rent on their behalf. Another example is calling in sick for them when they are too drunk or hungover to work.

Initially, these actions may seem helpful because you’re preventing your loved one from facing eviction or job loss. However, in reality, you’re making it easier for them to continue their substance abuse without facing consequences.

Codependency and Enabling

Codependency and enabling often go hand in hand. Codependency involves one-sided, emotionally destructive, and potentially abusive relationships. People with codependent tendencies generally have good intentions wanting to care for their loved ones struggling with addiction. However, their caretaking can become compulsive and unhelpful.

Codependent individuals may become martyrs, neglecting their needs to make excuses or cover up for the addict. Signs of codependency include:

  • Finding satisfaction only in helping the other person.
  • Staying in a harmful relationship.
  • Sacrificing your well-being to please them.
  • Feeling constant anxiety to keep them happy.
  • Devoting all your time and energy to their demands.
  • Ignoring your own needs.
  • Neglecting your morals to fulfill their wishes.

If you identify with these signs, you may be in a codependent relationship and more focused on enabling than helping.

Codependency, Enabling, and Addiction

Codependency is often called “relationship addiction” due to its habit-forming nature. Both codependency and enablement can be challenging to break free from. Initially, enabling may seem easier than watching your loved one face eviction or job loss, providing instant relief and the illusion of problem-solving.

However, long-term enablement is not a solution for their substance abuse problems. Eventually, you may find it impossible to financially support your loved one or become frustrated with their behavior. Although enabling may feel like support, it carries a high cost for both the enabler and the addict in the long run.

Risks of Long-Term Enablement

Enabling can have harmful consequences for you, your loved one, and others caught in the situation. It shields the addict from facing the consequences of their actions, hindering their progress toward seeking help. As the enabler, you may suffer emotional, mental, financial, and spiritual costs after months or years of enabling.

Additionally, your actions can negatively affect coworkers who must cover for your loved one’s absence or decreased productivity at work, as well as family members or friends hurt when the addict verbally or physically lashes out.

Helping vs. Enabling

True helping, instead of enabling, involves working with someone to do what they cannot do for themselves. For instance, if your loved one lacks housing after treatment, helping could entail offering temporary shelter in your home as they rebuild their life.

Establishing and enforcing clear boundaries is the key to ensuring that this is helping rather than enabling. These boundaries might include setting a time limit for their stay, outlining prohibited behaviors (e.g., no drinking or smoking), and defining their responsibilities while staying with you.

Helping is often the more challenging option between the two, as it demands delayed gratification, difficult conversations, and consistent boundary-setting. Unlike enabling, helping may not provide immediate relief, and your loved one may not respect the boundaries you set.

However, helping offers a more significant long-term payoff. It positions your loved one to overcome their substance abuse issues and embark on the path to recovery.