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Enabling vs Supporting an Addict: What is the Difference?

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

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Enabling vs Supporting an Addict: What is the Difference? cover

‍When a loved one struggles with substance abuse, it can often be difficult to know how best to support them. Many people have great intentions and try their very best to help the person who’s dealing with addiction. However, not everyone has the same skill sets or resources available to them. It can sometimes feel like there’s no right answer in terms of what is the best way to help that person. But, as you will see below, it’s not quite as complicated as that sounds. The difference between enabling vs supporting an addict comes down to a few key factors: situation, support network and personal accountability. Let’s take a look at what these two terms mean and how you can better help someone who struggles with substance abuse…

What Is “Enabling” and Why Is It Bad?

When someone enables another person, they are actively providing them with the means or resources that allow them to continue their destructive behaviors. It can be difficult to recognize enabling in yourself because, at the time, you might feel like you’re helping. But enabling the person to continue engaging in their destructive behavior only ends up damaging them in the long run. It takes away any personal accountability and robs them of the struggle and pain that comes with trying to change. Enabling creates toxic codependency. When one person relies on another for help with every single thing, it creates a cyclical pattern that’s difficult to break. In fact, it can be extremely damaging to the person who is receiving the enabling.

Enabling behaviors include things like giving money to someone who doesn’t have a job, covering their bills, or letting them stay at your house without paying rent or helping with chores. These actions can make it difficult for your addicted loved one to recover in the long run.

What Does Supporting an Addict Mean?

This is the opposite of enabling. Supporting an addict means being there for them, helping them to access treatment, and supporting them through the journey of change. It doesn’t mean that you need to fix their problems for them. Supporting someone in their recovery means being a source of encouragement and hope. It means letting them know that you are there for them and that you want to help them succeed. It means providing a place for them to stay if they need it and helping them find a good doctor and other resources that can help them in their journey. Rather than doing everything for them, supporting an addict means providing a place for them to be themselves and grow as a person.

Research shows that people with stronger social support systems are more likely to enter treatment programs for addiction. They are also more likely to stay sober over the long term. Supporting an addict means encouraging them to get clinical treatment for their problem and supporting them as they make their recovery journey.

3 Things that Cause Enabling Behaviors

Enabling behaviors are attached to a lack of knowledge. This is why, in many cases, the best thing you can do for someone who is enabling another person is educate yourself. When you’re more aware of the signs of enabling, you can actively work to avoid it in your own life and be a better support network to others. Here are some examples of ways people enable: they give gifts or money to the person struggling with addiction, they lie or hide information that others might use to help their loved one with addiction, and they don’t have boundaries. When you’re in a situation where you feel like you would normally enable someone, stop and ask yourself why you’re doing that. More often than not, you’ll find that it’s because you’re trying to protect them from the consequences of their actions.

2 Ways to Support Someone with Addiction Without Enabling

The best way to support someone with addiction is to be there for them. Let them know that you love them, that you want to help them, and that you are a source of encouragement and hope. Most importantly, let them know that you will love them no matter what. Be there for them, but also make sure to have your own healthy boundaries. This can be as simple as making sure you are eating properly, getting enough sleep, and taking care of yourself in general. You can’t help someone while you’re depleted yourself, so make sure that you are taking care of yourself as best as you can. Another way to support someone with addiction while avoiding enabling is to be honest. Being honest with the person struggling with addiction and with others who might be involved in the situation is one of the best ways to support someone and avoid enabling.

Encouraging Personal Accountability

One of the best ways to support someone who is trying to overcome an addiction is to encourage them to be accountable for their actions. Let them know that you love them and want to help, but that you expect them to do their part. Let them know that you will be there for them no matter what, but that you won’t enable them and that you expect them to do their part as well. Let them know that you expect them to look for a job, go to the doctor, and do everything they need to do to be successful. Holding someone accountable for their actions is a hard thing to do, but it’s one of the best ways to support them and help them to overcome their addiction.

Help Your Addicted Loved One Get Support at a Sober Living

Sober living homes like Design for Recovery are designed to provide support and encourage residents to stand on their own two feet. Design for Recovery is a sober living for men that is highly structured and goal-directed. It is more than just a safe and trigger-free space to live during recovery. Residents are connected with the resources they need to address their underlying issues, and they are encouraged to take responsibility for themselves. Arguably the best way to help someone with an addiction is to encourage them to enroll in a sober living home like Design for Recovery.

If you are ready to stop enabling your addicted family member and actually get them some help, reach out to our staff at Design for Recovery today.


Edited by: David Beasley

David Beasley - Design for Recovery

David Beasley is a certified RADT (Registered Alcohol/Drug Technician). David, moved to California from North Carolina after many failed attempts to get sober.

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

Charley earned his Masters of Clinical Psychology from Antioch University, Los Angeles, and is a California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT).He teaches mindfulness to both adults and children in group setting such as schools, corporate workplaces, and medical treatment facilities.

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