Futures Recovery Healthcare

The Difference Between Helping and Enabling


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We see this scenario time and time again. Families think they’re helping a loved one with a substance use disorder when they’re actually making things worse. A person constantly misusing substances will take your money, your charity, your time and your energy, and they’ll leave you completely drained. They’ll break your heart, and they’ll break their promises. How you respond to their behavior is crucial to veering them off the path they’re on.

The Many Ways of Enabling

Remind yourself that if things aren’t getting better, then you aren’t helping. There are many example of enabling, such as:

  • Giving your loved one money that they may use to buy drugs
  • Cutting them some slack and ignoring it when they use drugs after promising they’d quit
  • Calling your loved one’s boss to say they’re ill when they’re really absent from work due to their substance use
  • Taking care of responsibilities for your loved one: housekeeping, running errands, paying their bills, child rearing, etc.
  • Bailing them out of jail
  • Rationalizing or making excuses for their bad behavior

If you have to lie in order to assist someone else, you’re probably enabling, not helping.


Often, the person with substance use disorder isn’t the only codependent in the family. When they claim they’re going to change, or quit using drugs or alcohol, but it’s on the contingency of you helping them with something else, you have to find the courage to say no. If you are fearful that your loved one will cut off contact with you or impose some other form of punishment if you don’t help them, you are becoming codependent and need to stop that behavior right away. It will only hinder them and hurt everyone involved if other family members become putty in their hands.

Codependent Behavior

Addictions train people well to be masters at manipulation. The kindest and sweetest of human beings can turn into the most destructive and hurtful people when addiction is in play. When you’re trying to support a person with substance use disorder, you’re inclined to want to help in ways that you would help others who are down on their luck. Many will offer money or a place to stay, some will simply be there as a friend, and others will go as far as taking in and caring for their children. These are all enabling behaviors, and they contribute to prolonging your loved one’s substance abuse.

For anyone who loves someone with substance use disorder, one of their biggest fears is what would happen to them if they turned their back on them. Families allow this fear to paralyze and trap them in a never-ending cycle of enabling. The trepidation you feel inside when thinking about removing yourself from your loved one’s life controls your behavior. Every time you catch them when they fall, they are reassured that you will next time. They are keenly aware of the control their emotional, psychological, and sometimes even physical threats have over you.

Take Action Now

Do not wait for your loved one to hit rock bottom. It’s a common misconception that those who are pushed into rehab against their will by their concerned families have no chance at success. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Sometimes it takes someone to realize that their family truly loves and supports them to get them to enter a treatment program.

Hitting rock bottom certainly does motivate some people to get help, but it isn’t an end-all-be-all requirement of addiction recovery. Likewise, rock bottom doesn’t have GPS coordinates – it isn’t the same place for everyone. Some people are motivated to quit for their families, whereas some stop when they realize they’re hurting themselves. Some take action at the first sign of trouble, and others still abuse substances after they’ve lost everything that ever mattered to them.

There are also people who are troubled by ramifications or shame they face because of their addiction, and this leads them to seek professional help. Others may be legally forced to.

Family members and loved ones of someone with substance use disorder often benefit from seeking help too. Support groups and family therapy play a hefty role in the rehabilitation of broken families, and serve to support family members and teach them ways to help instead of enable.

Ways to Help a Loved One

Stop hoping it will get better on its own. Do not turn the other cheek and allow someone with substance use disorder to wreak havoc on your life. This isn’t to say they can’t be in your life, but it needs to be on healthy terms. There are safe ways to protect yourself and other family members from a loved one without cutting ties.


Interventions are a hot topic. There are entire television shows and documentaries based on this therapeutic concept, and for good reason — they’re successful in terms of getting people into rehab. Family involvement in substance abuse treatment programs, including interventions, often occurs before someone with substance use disorder enters rehab. This reinforces the idea that people with family support have a better chance at recovery. Likewise, it can hinder someone’s recovery if their family doesn’t follow through with their responsibilities and support them throughout their recovery journey.

The best thing you can do to show a loved one that you care is to educate yourself on what they’re going through. Learn what it feels like to be dependent on a drug or alcohol. Understand how desperate you become when under the influence of an addiction. Put yourself in the shoes of someone with substance use disorder and ask yourself what you’re feeling. Substance abuse and self-esteem often go hand-in-hand. It can be disheartening for your loved one to face the people who knew them before their addiction took over – they’ve lost people’s respect, and the substance abuse feels shameful and embarrassing.

Addiction Treatment Programs

Taking the step to accept help is a huge one, but it’s only the beginning of the long battle that lies ahead of your loved one. You must be prepared for what you will endure while holding their hand through this process.

It is a commendable trait to be compassionate enough to put your own feelings and judgments aside while helping a struggling loved one, especially one with substance use disorder. Your reward for such, if handled correctly, can mean getting the person you know and love back. Whether your loved one is participating in an outpatient or inpatient treatment program, you need to be equally as prepared to support them through it. When someone enrolls into inpatient treatment, it’s easy to feel like the problem has solved itself when it’s no longer in your home or impacting your daily life. Due to this, many people will get lax in their supportive roles.

Some stop visiting or even stop taking phone calls from their loved one. This can be very depressing for the person seeking treatment. Drug and alcohol addiction are scary things that no one wants to go through alone. Most people in a residential inpatient program worry about what will happen after they leave. As their family, it is your job to reassure them that they’re coming home to a loving and supportive environment.

Helping your loved one recover from substance abuse can ultimately make the difference between life and death. At Futures Recovery Healthcare, we understand that this can be a scary thought and you may feel as though you don’t know where to turn. Our compassionate team is here to help you and your loved one. Please do not hesitate to contact us as soon as you are ready.


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