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Are You Helping Or Enabling? 7 Ways to Spot the Difference

There’s no doubt that loving an addict is hard. It’s natural for you to want your loved ones to succeed rather than suffer.

While reaching out to help a loved one in need is certainly not a bad thing, there’s a fine line between helping and enabling, especially when it comes to addiction. Those who enable have good intentions, but they’re actually contributing to the problem rather than solving it.

Here are 7 ways to tell if you’re helping or enabling someone suffering from an addiction.

1. Making Excuses for the Addict

Making excuses for someone with an addiction to drugs or alcohol denies the reality of the problem. A sure sign of enabling is denial or avoidance. If you’re an enabler, you choose not to confront the addict because you fear conflict. Instead, you may find yourself making excuses for the addict’s behavior and convincing yourself that the problem will just go away on its own.

You may say things like, “He’s just going through a phase.” This doesn’t help the person in question—it allows the problem to persist. To truly help, it’s important to confront them, in a respectful and loving way, about their behavior.

2. Giving Them Money

As an enabler, you probably give your loved one money that they will ultimately end up using to buy drugs. You might even pay their bills, buy groceries, or otherwise enable them financially. While it can be hard to see a loved one’s electricity get shut off because he or she spent the money on drugs, paying the bill is enabling and diminishes the ramifications of the person’s actions.

Rather than pay an addict’s bills or give cash that ends up being traded for drugs, offer your money for drug and alcohol rehab instead.

3. Taking Over Their Responsibilities

Taking over the responsibilities that your loved one has neglected due to addiction is a sign of enabling. Some examples include cleaning the house, picking children up from school, or otherwise handling their affairs.

4. Telling Lies to Cover Up Their Behavior

Lying to cover up an addict’s behavior is another sign of enabling. They need to be held responsible for their actions. Covering up mistakes and wrong-doings enables them to continue to make the same poor choices. Accountability is far more helpful in the long run.

5. Bailing Them Out of Sticky Situations

Helping someone out of a predicament caused by drug use only enables them to continue making poor decisions. Whether it’s bailing them out of jail, buying personal items back from the pawn shop, or lying to employers and loved ones, bailing them out takes away the negative consequences of addiction.

While it can be difficult to see a loved one sit in jail or get fired from a job, letting them suffer the repercussions is more likely to prompt them to seek addiction treatment.

6. Codependent Behavior

Codependent behavior is almost always present to some degree in an enabler. You may get personal gratification from helping the addict. For example, you may feel that you’re doing a good deed or feel a sense of pride from making a sacrifice, or you might feel a sense of control out of the situation or enjoy the feeling of being needed.

If you find yourself enabling your loved one, you can attend 12-Step support groups such as Al-Anon or Nar-Anon to address your codependency and learn how to provide support without enabling them.

7. Putting Their Needs Before Your Own

If you’re helping an addict appropriately, you will set clear boundaries and remain assertive. It’s possible to be supportive without neglecting your own needs. Helping someone should never be a threat to your own well-being, so make sure you’re taking care of yourself first.

It’s important to stop and ask yourself whether your actions are helping or harming. Helping empowers an addict to take responsibility rather than creating dependency. No one can force them to change. In the end, the desire to change must come from within.

When someone suffering from an addiction is enabled, he or she is less likely to want to change because the harsh reality of poor choices is softened. Allowing them to suffer the consequences of addiction can help show how life would improve without drugs.

How to Find Help for Drug or Alcohol Misuse

If you or a loved one is struggling with drug or alcohol misuse, help is available and recovery is possible. To learn about rehab programs and treatment options, contact a caring admissions navigator with American Addiction Centers (AAC) for free at .

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