Helping Or Enabling? | 10 Questions To Spot The Difference

There is a fine line between helping someone with alcohol or drug addiction and enabling their substance abuse to continue. Here are ten questions that can help you understand which is which.

When a loved one abuses drugs and alcohol and can’t stop, it can be a frustrating and demoralizing experience. However, there is no way for you to cure addiction for someone you love. They must take responsibility for their own recovery.

The best thing you can do is to be there for them with respect, tough love, and encouragement to help them to get the treatment they need, all without enabling their addictive behavior.

Helping Behavior Vs. Enabling Behavior

Unfortunately, the same material support that you give to someone can be helpful in one situation and enabling in the next. And the difference comes down to a question of direction.

Is your support allowing your loved one’s addictive behavior to continue without proper consequences, or is it empowering them to continue working towards recovery?

If you aren’t sure, ask the following ten questions of yourself:

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1. Am I Shielding My Loved One From The Natural Consequences Of Their Actions?

Part of the process of addiction recovery is experiencing painful, distressing, and uncomfortable consequences as a direct result of misusing drugs and alcohol. Things like falling behind on rent or being evicted, losing one’s job, or not having food on the shelf.

Swooping in and rescuing your loved one from these negative consequences of their own actions whenever they happen isn’t right or just, and it isn’t allowing the one you love to truly experience and grapple with the harsh reality of their bad behavior.

2. Am I Making Excuses For Them Or Their Behavior?

If you find yourself lying and covering for your loved one when they fall short, or blaming others (or even yourself) to rationalize away their mistakes and negative behavior, it can be a strong warning sign that you are also avoiding and denying reality.

3. Am I Ignoring The Signs Of Addiction In Their Life?

There may be many other signs of addiction in your loved one’s life that you may be intentionally overlooking while helping them. Things like physical changes in their appearance and health, behavioral changes, sleep or appetite changes, money going missing, stealing, lying, and more.

Try to see your loved one with new eyes and watch for any signs of self-denial in yourself.

4. Am I Acting Against My Own Conscience?

You should not feel guilty, uneasy, angry, or ashamed of the help you are giving your loved one. If these negative emotions are your gut response, it’s a sign that something isn’t right and needs to change.

5. Am I Supporting Them Financially?

Regardless of your good intentions, giving your loved one money or other financial support is a major problem for enablement.

Even if you are covering a bill directly, like a rent payment, car payment, or groceries, this financial relief may still allow your loved one to divert other funds towards their substance abuse. Avoid giving money whenever you can.

6. Am I Ignoring My Own Needs In Favor Of Theirs?

Codependency describes a relationship which is fundamentally imbalanced, with one partner acting as the taker and the other as the giver (the enabler).

If your loved one is taking up all of your emotional energy, or depriving you of time, money, or material resources that you need, all because their own needs or daily crisis is greater, it can be yet another major warning sign of a negative and enabling relationship.

7. Am I Avoiding Conflict With My Loved One When I Help?

If you are yielding to your loved one in order to reduce friction or conflict with them, to keep emotions down, or to prevent physical or emotional abuse, then your help is not coming from a helpful or healthy place.

8. Am I Helping In Secret To Avoid Conflict With Others?

You should not be helping a loved one quietly or secretly in order to avoid sparking conflict with other family members, friends, or loved ones who would object to your own enabling behavior.

9. Am I Enforcing Healthy Boundaries & Expectations?

Clear boundaries are important when it comes to helping vs. enabling. But setting boundaries or conditions for your support isn’t enough on its own. You need to also follow through with fair and natural consequences.

For instance, if your loved one comes home under the influence, you may be forced to turn them away. Or, if they become hostile or disrespectful, you may need to end a conversation immediately and decline to see them for several days.

10. Am I Giving My Loved One Help With Responsibilities They Could Take Care Of Themselves?

It’s one thing to help your loved one where they need it, giving them a ride to treatment or providing child or pet care for certain periods of time. 

However, you shouldn’t be taking care of normal things for them that they are fully capable of doing themselves, and that they would be doing themselves if not for the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Ultimately, the most important thing you can do for your loved one is to help them enroll in a professional addiction inpatient treatment program for substance use disorder and any co-occurring mental health issues.

Learn more about your options by calling Ohio Recovery Center today.

  1. Kentucky Department of Corrections
  2. National Institute on Aging (NIH)
  3. University of Pennsylvania Health System

Written by Ohio Recovery Center Editorial Team

Published on: January 4, 2024

© 2024 Ohio Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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