What Is the Difference Between Helping and Enabling?

closeup of friend putting her hand on friend's shoulder - enabling your loved oneIt is natural to want to help someone you care about, whether financially, physically, or emotionally. Helping those in need is certainly a good thing, but when that person has a drug or alcohol addiction, there is a fine line between helping and enabling. Many people who are trying to help are actually contributing to the problem. How do you know whether you are helping or hurting your loved one?

The Difference Between Helping and Enabling

In an article in Psychology Today, Karen Khaleghi, Ph.D., an addiction expert, says that “enabling means offering help that perpetuates – rather than solves – a problem.” When you do something for another person that helps them gain control of their life, you are helping. When you do something for a person that they could and should do for themselves, you are enabling. You are keeping them from being accountable and having to experience any negative consequences of their actions. When a person does not have to experience consequences, they have no reason to change their behavior. An enabler prevents their loved one from coming to terms with their addiction and seeking help for it.

How Do You Help Someone with an Addiction?

When a loved one is in active addiction, you can help them in the following ways:

  • Holding them accountable for their responsibilities
  • Listening when they need to talk about any problems at school or work
  • Confronting them in a respectful way about unacceptable behavior
  • Respectfully showing concern for their well-being and having a conversation about it
  • Setting realistic boundaries

These actions empower the individual to think about their actions and the effect they have on others. By helping your loved one in these ways, you are making sure that you are not taking responsibility for anything that they should be doing themselves.

Seven Ways to Tell if You are Enabling or Helping

  1. Giving your loved one money that will end up being used to buy alcohol or drugs is a way of enabling them. Buying their groceries or paying their bills is also enabling, if they are spending their own money on substances. When your financial help enables them to continue their habit, they have no incentive to change.
  2. If you handle the responsibilities your loved one is neglecting because of their addiction, you are enabling. Several examples include picking up their children from school, cleaning the house, cooking their meals, and taking care of their yard.
  3. Making excuses for a person with a drug or alcohol addiction is a way of denying that the problem really exists. An enabler has a fear of conflict with the addict and will not confront them. Instead, they justify or make excuses for their behavior and convince themselves the problem will disappear on its own. A definite sign of enabling is avoidance or denial.
  4. You are enabling your loved one when you help them out of a bad situation caused by alcohol or drug use. They will continue to make poor choices if they do not have to suffer the repercussions of their actions. Whether you bail them out of jail or buy back personal items from a pawn shop, you are taking away the negative consequences of their actions.
  5. Telling lies to cover up for the person’s mistakes and wrong-doings is another way of enabling them. They need to be held accountable for their actions or they will keep making poor choices.
  6. When a person is an enabler there is generally codependent behavior. You may enjoy feeling needed and feel proud of yourself for making a sacrifice for your loved one. Enabling may help you feel like you are in control of the situation.
  7. Putting the needs of your loved one before your own needs is a sign of enabling. You should always place your own self-care and well-being first. By being assertive, setting clear boundaries, and being supportive, you will help your loved one without neglecting your own needs.

Help Is Available

If you or someone you know is struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction, we can help. Call and speak to a trained professional at English Mountain Recovery located in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. We will answer your questions and help you begin your journey on the road to a clean and sober life.

English Mountain Recovery - Tennessee drug rehab center - alcohol rehab -To learn more about programs offered at English Mountain Recovery, inpatient addiction treatment in Tennessee, call and speak with someone today at (877) 615-8569. We are ready to help you or your loved one recover.



About the Author: Terry Hurley

Terry Hurley is a retired educational professional and freelance writer with more than fifty years of experience. A former reading specialist and learning center director, Terry loved her years working with children in the educational field. She has written extensively for print and online publications specializing in education and health issues. For the last six years, her writing focus has been on addiction and mental health issues.

See more articles by Terry.