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Differences between Enabling and Helping a Loved One

Differences between Enabling and Helping a Loved One

When a parent, spouse, or relative suspects a loved one of misusing substances or potentially struggling with addiction, the difference between enabling that person and helping can significantly affect treatment and recovery chances. Unfortunately, the line between enabling and helping can become blurred for many learning how to help someone with opiate addiction extremely challenging. When navigating the recovery process, there are ways to ensure that boundaries do not get crossed.

Harmful Enabling

Acts of enabling aren’t intentionally detrimental; most of the time, those that act as enablers are entirely unaware they are hurting the ones they love who are spiraling through addiction. Acts of enabling can include:

  • Making excuses for their unlawful and damaging behavior

  • Financially supporting drug misuse through coercion

  • Hiding or covering up acts that could lead to consequences

  • Avoidance of dealing directly with the issue

Codependent relationships are a major factor in enabling behavior in intrapersonal relationships. It involves a dynamic where one person, the codependent, solely supports and inadvertently or directly enables the other person’s destructive or harmful behavior. Those who act as enablers are misdirecting their care and love gestures by actively supporting their loved one’s substance misuse, even though they think they are helping them.

How to Help Someone with Opiate Addiction

Stopping enabling habits doesn’t happen overnight. It requires a complete overhaul of the relationship’s dynamics, especially when examining codependent behaviors. Enabling is very common due to people’s instinct to want to aid and help their loved ones when they’re suffering, but learning to assist in more productive ways is possible. It’s especially important to get a grip on enabling behaviors before resentment against the person who is suffering sets in for the helper due to continued manipulation and destructive behaviors. Ways to help without enabling include:

  • Understanding that the loved one with addiction is a capable person instead of too vulnerable to understand the cause and effect of their actions. When their problems and messes are continuously being solved by someone else, they cannot face consequences that can push them to make the step to get treatment.

  • Setting healthy boundaries can seem complicated at first, but it’s a great first step towards changing behaviors that enable someone to misuse substances. These boundaries should be clearly articulated between both parties and consequences when they are crossed and rules are broken. This works to protect both people involved.

  • Seeking therapy from a substance use counselor or family therapist together or separately can help get the wheels in motion towards healing and, hopefully, the person with substance use disorder seeking treatment.

Helping someone with addiction without enabling them can appear difficult at first, but with the right resources and mindset, it’s very attainable for many families. It’s also essential for the person struggling with substance use disorder because it can be a catalyst in finally seeking treatment and embarking on the journey towards recovery.


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