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Helping Recovery vs. Enabling Addiction

March 14, 2017

Enabling can be harmful to a person’s recovery. This blog will look at what enabling is, and how you can support a person in recovery rather than continue to aid them in their addictive behaviors.

Definition of Enabling:

According to the dictionary, to enable is to “give someone or something the authority or means to do something,” or “to make possible.” With regard to substance abuse, enabling is removing the consequences of behavior, so that the person can continue to use. Examples of enabling include: giving money to the addict, lying to their employer about why they’re missing work, completing tasks the person is responsible for, making excuses for their absence or behaviors, paying off debts, or bailing him/her out of jail. The person who enables sees their behavior as helpful, but what it can do is prolong the “rock bottom” the addict usually hits before trying to get sober. Think about it—if I have someone paying for my drugs or bailing me out of jail, why am I going to stop using? I have no consequence for my behavior, and no incentive for change, so I can continue to engage in the same things I’ve always done.

Harm to the Enabler:

In addition to the obvious harm to the addicted person, the person who enables also ends up harmed. Oftentimes, a person who enables resents the things they take on to help the addicted person, usually put others needs ahead of their own, fear retribution so they don’t often express their emotions, lie for others, and are stressed out because they’re not taking care of themselves or their needs. Al-Anon, counseling, or other groups can help provide support for people who have a loved one who has an addiction. These groups or counseling can also help people create healthy boundaries so they can support a person’s recovery rather than continue to enable a person’s addiction.

How to Help Recovery:

​People who are used to enabling may find it difficult to set healthy boundaries. They may feel that saying “no” to their loved one is “mean.” The person who is used to getting what they want will likely be upset with newly created boundaries as well. This may result in fights and anger that may make you want to forget the boundaries and just give in. Honestly, this discomfort can’t be any more challenging than the daily anguish of having to watch someone slowly deteriorate due to their use of drugs/alcohol.

Some ways to stop enabling can include: not giving the person any money for any reason, not lying on their behalf, not doing tasks/errands/work for them, not driving them places, and not bailing them out of jail. It is so important that you have support during this time, because your addicted loved one is going to use every manipulation tactic in their arsenal to try to make you give them what they want. It can be difficult to stay strong with your boundaries without healthy support from others who have been through a similar situation.



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