Recognizing the Difference Between Enabling and Supporting a Loved One During Addiction Treatment

Supporting your loved one during addiction treatment is a key part of the recovery process, but without a firm grasp on how your actions affect them, you might find yourself realizing that there are situations when giving hinders healing. By learning how to support your loved one without enabling, you can positively shape their recovery and use your love and affection to help them overcome their addiction.

When it comes to addiction, social support is an integral part of treatment, acting as a constant on the road to recovery. In times when your loved one slips up, being a part of their support group means catching them before they fall, or helping them up and guiding them back onto the path of progress.

But there’s a fine line between constructive support and enabling in the realm of addiction, and if you find yourself struggling to see this line, it might best to take a step back and put your actions into perspective.


When Giving Hinders Healing

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said that “to close the open hand out of love, and keep modest as a giver” is the hardest thing to do, and if you love someone with addiction then you know exactly how true this rings. Watching the people that you’re closest to struggle and make decisions that you know will cause them harm is not easy, but it is necessary for recovery—without these learning experiences, rising above addiction is a much more difficult experience.

What you need to remember above all is that those that harbor the most potential to help people with addiction are often the ones that are most likely to enable. Consider situations where family members are enablers, a common one in the realm of co-dependency: maybe you’re a parent who feels guilt over your adult child’s addiction, and this pushes you to take on the many difficulties in their life that they can’t seem to handle. This can be anything from paying their rent to taking care of regular weekly responsibilities for them, like housework and shopping.

That’s not to say that people struggling with addiction don’t need support, but supporting a loved one and attempting to completely shield them from their problems are two completely different things. This makes it even more important for you to have a clear perspective and take action to make sure that you’re on the right side of the line between enabling and supporting recovery from addiction. Ask yourself this: have you ever lied about your loved one’s drug use? Given them drugs, or money for drugs? Taken on their chores or other daily responsibilities? Any time that you make a decision that affects your loved one, take a step back and keep an eye out for ones that:

  • Burden you with your loved one’s responsibilities. Cleaning up their home, lending them money regularly, giving them rides—these are all things that can become burdens if they become regular routines and compound your own responsibilities.
  • Negatively impact your own life and physical and/or mental health. Maybe the money that you’re lending them to keep up on rent is causing you to be short on yours. Or maybe you’ve been lying to other family members to hide their addiction, and it’s starting to make you anxious all the time. Enabling can be harmful to both parties and remaining aware of its effects on you is necessary to avoid it.
  • Prevent your loved one from experiencing the natural consequences of their actions. Whether you’re making up excuses to hide their addiction from others or giving them money to make their rent, you’re preventing them from experiencing the negative consequences of their actions, which can be important motivators for treatment.

It’s natural to want to help those you love, and that’s why enabling is so common in family members and those closest to the person struggling with addiction—their bonds are usually the strongest, and span a lifetime. By learning how to clearly recognize what is and isn’t helpful for your loved one, you’ll be much better equipped to support them—and yourself—through the tough process of addiction recovery.

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Supporting Your Loved One Without Enabling

Taking your love and compassion and channeling them into positive, adaptable actions that can support recovery—without falling into the trap of enabling—is not always an easy process, but with the right mindset it is possible, provided you:

  • Stand by your decisions. Letting go of your loved one’s responsibilities and placing them back in their hands might lead to them retaliating—they might threaten to stop talking to you, to move out, or break down emotionally. No matter their reaction, the endgame is the same: to put you back in a position of enabling their drug use. Always stand your ground—addiction can make us think and do things that are outside the natural scope of ourselves, and in situations like this, remind yourself that it’s the addiction talking, and giving in is giving into your loved one’s addiction, not them.
  • Don’t let shame get the best of you. Recognize your feelings of guilt and shame, but understand that giving into them will probably make it more difficult for you to support your loved one’s recovery. Many programs offer numerous ways to address shame, from simple activities like writing to more intensive psychotherapies. They’re not just for people struggling with addiction, either—they can be harnessed by those close to them as well.
  • Never sacrifice your own well-being. At the end of the day, addiction’s effects are far-reaching and if you’re close to someone struggling with it, it can take its toll on you. Always put your own mental and physical health first—if you aren’t taking care of yourself, you probably won’t be able to take care of anyone else.

Ultimately, the key is to focus on providing love and guidance and avoid doing anything that your loved one can do themselves. If they fall into patterns of addiction again, you need to focus on supporting them in their journey to recovery and avoid actions that sustain their addiction. In fact, there is plenty that can be learned from relapse, and by making excuses for them, you’re (unintentionally) preventing them from being able to harness the learning experiences that come from the natural consequences of their actions.

Positively Shaping Recovery

Loving someone with addiction is hard, and though your heart often tells you that shielding them from harm is the best route, remember this: you can’t “fix” someone struggling with addiction. You can aid them on their journey, but even still, recovery is a lifelong process that requires a conscious effort on their end and proper residential treatment. By learning to support your loved one while at the same time maintaining a healthy distance, you can stay by their side on their journey through treatment without enabling their addiction and pave the way for an adaptive bond conducive to recovery.

Alta Mira offers comprehensive addiction rehabilitation for people struggling with a number of drug addictions. Contact us today to learn how you can help your loved one get the treatment that they need and understand the role that you can play to positively contribute to their recovery.