Helping vs Enabling

 In After Treatment, Before Treatment, Know: Drugs and Alcohol

Do you have a loved one who struggles with addiction?

It’s natural for you to want to help them overcome their issues with substance abuse. At the same time, if your efforts have been unsuccessful so far, you may want to take a step back and ask yourself if you’re truly helping your loved one or if you’re enabling them.

Explained below are some of the key differences between helping and enabling that everyone, especially the friends and family members of addicts, should know.

What Is Enabling?

Enabling involves doing things for someone that they can and should be doing for themselves.

Let’s say your loved one does not have enough money to pay their rent because they’ve spent their last paycheck on drugs or alcohol. An example of enabling would be paying their rent for them.

Another example might be calling into work for your loved one and saying they’re too sick to come in when they’re too drunk or hungover to do their job. 

At first, these feel like helpful behaviors because you’re preventing your loved one from being evicted or fired. What you’re actually doing is making it easier for them to continue abusing drugs or alcohol since they have not faced any real consequences.

Codependency and Enabling

Usually, codependency and enabling go hand in hand.

Mental Health America explains that people who struggle with codependency often have one-sided, emotionally destructive, and potentially abusive relationships.

Codependent people generally have good intentions and want to care for someone who, in this case, is struggling with addiction. Eventually, their caretaking can become compulsive and isn’t beneficial.

Those with codependent tendencies may also become martyrs. This mentality results in them putting their own needs on the back burner so they can continue making excuses or covering up for their friend or family member.

Signs of Codependency

If you’re not sure whether the term “codependent” applies to your relationship, consider whether any of the following symptoms of codependency sound familiar:

● You only find satisfaction or happiness in doing things for them

● You stay in the relationship even though you know your loved one does harmful things

● You will do anything to please the other person, even at your own expense

● You feel constant anxiety about your relationship because you always want to make the other person happy

● You use all your time and energy to give your partner what they ask for

● You feel guilty for thinking about yourself and don’t express personal needs or wants

● You consistently ignore your morals or conscience to do what someone else wants

If any of these signs ring true to you, you may be in a codependent relationship and doing more enabling than helping.

Codependency, Enabling, and Addiction

Many people use the term “relationship addiction” to describe codependency. Because of its habit-forming nature, codependency and enablement are hard to give up.

It’s often easier to enable an addict, at least in the beginning. It doesn’t take a lot of effort initially to pay their rent or call their boss. It certainly feels better than watching them get evicted or fired.

Engaging in enabling behaviors provides instant relief to the enabler. It provides them with a fleeting thought that they “solved” the problem. They also get to avoid conflict with their loved ones.

Enabling an addict cannot be a long-term solution for a person’s substance use problems. At a certain point, the enabler will likely be unable to support their loved one financially or may grow frustrated and become fed up with their loved one’s behavior. Though enabling may feel like providing support, it can come at a high cost to both the enabler and the addict in the long run.

Risks of Long-Term Enablement

When you’re stuck in the throes of codependency, you might assume that it’s an expression of love. However, your actions can be harmful to you, your loved one, and others who get caught in the crossfire.

Enablement sets an addict up to keep wreaking havoc on their physical and mental well-being. Without seeing the consequences of their actions, they cannot take the steps toward getting the help they need. By enabling your loved one, you’re putting out the fires that may generally cause disruption in their lifestyle and push them toward seeking help for their addiction.

You, the enabler, can be hurt by your actions, too. After months or years of enabling, you might end up feeling exhausted and powerless. In addition to the emotional and mental costs, you will lose a lot of time and money in the process.

Your choice to enable can also be harmful to others. Examples include coworkers who pick up the slack of your loved one who is absent or ineffective in the workplace and family members or friends who are hurt when the addict lashes out at them verbally or physically. 

Helping vs Enabling

True helping, not enabling, involves working with someone to do what they cannot yet do for themselves. 

Let’s say your loved one does not have the financial means for housing after getting out of treatment. An example of helping could be offering support, such as a temporary room in your house as they try to regain their lives.

The key to making this a helping behavior, not an enabling one, is setting and enforcing clear boundaries. These boundaries might include:

● Establishing how long they can stay with you

● Clearly explaining what they cannot do while staying with you (e.g., no drinking, smoking, etc.)

● Setting boundaries around what you’re willing and not willing to accept in your home (e.g., they must look for a job, be helpful by doing chores around the house, etc.).

Between helping and enabling, helping is usually the more challenging option. It requires you to delay gratification, have difficult conversations, and set and enforce boundaries. You likely won’t get an immediate sense of relief from helping like you do when you enable. Your loved one may also not respect or appreciate the boundaries that you set.

Despite being more difficult, helping provides a more long-term payoff. When you genuinely help someone struggling with addiction, you put them in a position to overcome their substance abuse issues and begin their recovery.

Start Helping Today

To set your friend or family member up for success on their recovery journey, you need to be a helper, not an enabler.

If you’re ready to take the next step and start helping your loved one overcome their addiction, contact us today at Bradford Health Services. Call us at 1-888-762-3740 or reach us via live chat 24/7.

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