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22 Jun Am I Helping or Enabling?

There can be a fine line between helping and enabling when you have a loved one with an addiction. Here is what you should know about the difference between helping and enabling, along with what you can do to help a loved one with an addiction.

Enabling defined

Often in our efforts to help a loved one who has an addiction, we inadvertently enable the addiction. Enabling can be defined as making it easier for the person with the addiction to continue with their destructive lifestyle. Enabling might spare a person with an addiction of some pain, as it can slow the descent into chaos and pain, but ultimately it prevents the addict from recognizing the true consequences of the addiction and can allow for the addiction to continue much longer than it would have otherwise.

The are many forms of enabling. One form involves ignoring the addict’s negative and destructive behavior, either out of denial or out of fear of dealing with the problem. Another form involves failing to express emotions, usually out of fear that doing so will have negative effects. Friends and family members of addicts might help make excuses for the addict, such as for being late to work or for missing a major family event. Or they might put the addict’s needs before their own. They might also help an addict with finances like rent or groceries, allowing the addict to continue spending a good portion of his or her budget on the addiction. Or they might take over some of the addict’s responsibilities, like those of child rearing, house keeping, or running errands. When trying to determine whether or not you are enabling an addict, you should ask yourself, “Is what I’m doing making it easier for my loved one to continue with the addiction?” “Does this prevent my loved one from seeing some of the true, negative consequences of the addiction?”

How to help

It can be difficult, then, to know what you can do for a loved one with an addiction without inadvertently enabling the addiction to continue. A good first step here is to recognize where you might be enabling and to then take measures to overcome these forms of enabling. If you have had difficulty expressing your emotions about the addiction to your loved one, for example, then this might be a good time to hold an intervention with other loved ones so that you can express your feelings in a safe environment. Even if you haven’t had difficulty expressing your feelings in a healthy manner, an intervention is a great way to make the consequences of addiction more tangible for the addict and to present your loved one with some options for overcoming the addiction. Some addicts have difficulty beginning treatment simply because it involves making too many decisions, so doing your research beforehand and presenting your loved one with a well-thought-out option can make the decision to seek treatment much easier for your loved one. Additionally, it is important to show the addict that you care, educating yourself on the addiction and offering to be a part of their support system in recovery.

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