Helping vs. Enabling: What’s the Difference?

Spelling HELP with Scrabble

Dane O'Leary October 5, 2020

Addiction is hard on relationships. Whether it’s a friend or family member, if someone you love is battling with substance abuse, it’s incredibly difficult to watch them deteriorate as this complex mental health disorder sows destruction in their life. 

It’s a natural and good-natured reaction to want to help, but the line between helping and enabling is pretty thin and easily crossed. Knowing the difference between helping and enabling is vital to ensure your interventions aren’t contributing to the problem.

We put together a couple of Q&As to better understand the difference between enabling and helping. 

What’s the Difference Between Helping and Enabling?

To determine the difference between helping and enabling, ask yourself if your involvement in your addicted loved one’s life is resulting in any positive change. If you’re genuinely helping someone who’s struggling with drug abuse, your involvement should be steering them towards sobriety. 

If their illness is progressing or even staying the same, despite your many well-meaning handouts or excuses, there’s a good chance that are you’re an enabler.  

Author Henry Cloud once said, “To rescue people from the natural consequences of their behavior is to render them powerless.”

Helping an addicted loved one means letting them bear the consequences of their actions. Enablers have the person they’re enabling’s interests at heart, but by safeguarding someone from dealing with the after-effects of their actions, you’re ultimately standing in the way of facing reality – and getting the help they need. 

Is Enabling the Same as Codependency?

Not entirely. There are a range of behaviors within the realm of codependency. Enabling is one aspect of codependent relationships but these types of relationships often also go along with avoidance, non-compliance, and uncontrollable behaviors. 

The emotional reflex of wanting to protect a person you care about, is at the root of most enabling relationships.

Codependency and addiction tend to go hand-in-hand, arguably as both these compulsive behaviors typically revolve around lingering, and unaddressed, emotional pain. 

Enablers usually have a strong connection or bond with the addict they’re enabling. It’s unsurprising to learn that the emotional reflex of wanting to protect a person you care about is at the root of most enabling relationships. 

How Do I Stop Enabling Bad Behavior?

The desire to shield someone we love can trump the courage needed to confront the problem head-on. The clincher is to realize that by enabling an addict, you’re doing the exact opposite of keeping them safe. Sooner or later, the downward spiral of addiction will take its toll and even though it may not seem like it, enabling is detrimental. 

Even though they tend to excuse the bad behavior of someone they care about, they don’t condone the behavior. However, their fear that the consequences of a loved one’s bad behavior may result in them getting hurt, fuels enabling behavior. Fear is a hurdle enablers and addicts both need to overcome.

Here are a few ways enablers can stop enabling:

  • Call out behaviors that raise concern. 
  • Stop ignoring things that don’t sit right. 
  • Confront your loved one about what it is their doing that’s got you worried.
  • Stop making excuses for your addicted loved one’s behavior.
  • Set firm and clear boundaries of what you will and won’t do for your addicted loved one.
  • Face your own fear, guilt, or denial by admitting your loved one has a problem, you can’t control it, and they need professional help.

What Happens When an Enabler Stops Enabling?

When an enabler reaches a point where they realize what they’ve been doing isn’t going to stop their addicted loved one’s harmful behavior, it’s not uncommon for the relationship to take even more strain. Addicts can react with hostility when an enabler stops enabling. Keep in mind that doing away with unhealthy enabling, is in fact, showing a deep love for the person you’ve been trying to help. 

Once enabling stops, helpful support can start. 

If you genuinely want to help an addicted loved one, the best way to intervene is to get them the professional help they need. 

LA Addiction Treatment in Silicon Beach 

At Silicon Beach Treatment Center, we’re focused on healing the whole person. Our holistic approach includes substance abuse treatment programs and support for co-occurring mental health disorders.

Get in touch with us and start rebuilding your life today.

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