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The Difference between Enabling and Supporting

by General Marketing

When a loved one struggles with substance misuse, concerned people may find themselves at a crossroads between helping and enabling them, even with the best intentions. Enabling can sometimes feel like fixing the problem, but it often ends up having the opposite results. Understanding the difference between enabling and supporting someone with addiction is an important step in spreading awareness of how substance use disorder is a “family disease” and how it affects more than just the person using substances. Additionally, learning more about enabling behaviors can cause the necessary shift for some who are considering entering life-saving addiction treatment or helping someone they care for take the proper steps toward sobriety.

What is Enabling?

In short, enabling is when a person (often unwittingly) passively permits harmful behavior from another person. Concerning substance use, this can apply in many different ways, but often the enabler tends to have good intentions but is more focused on “problem-solving” in the wrong ways that end up continuing the unwanted destructive behavior exhibited by the drug user because they never face negative consequences. Some examples of enabling someone with substance use disorder include:

  • Making excuses for latent destructive behavior in and outside of the home
  • “Rescuing” the user in situations that put other family members in harm’s way
  • Financially supporting the person knowing the money is going directly toward drugs
  • Lying, fabricating stories, and covering up misdeeds
  • Taking on the drug user’s responsibilities for them
  • Failing to construct sensible and safe boundaries
  • Overriding their own needs or of the family to help the drug user

These examples show a harmful pattern of silent permission that a loved one with substance use disorder may act in ways that worsen their condition and strain others in the family or group. In essence, enablers may feel that they are helping the drug user by getting them “out of a bind” every other day, but in the long run, they are making the person’s situation much worse and their addiction deeper. Consequently, enablers often feel deep resentment towards the person they’re enabling because the cycle becomes all-consuming without any improvement in the drug user’s life.

Supporting instead of Enabling

It can be difficult to support a loved one grappling with substance misuse or addiction because the disease causes them to prioritize drug use above all else, causing them to act in belligerent and destructive ways. It can feel impossible to reason with someone whose brain has been rewired by substances, so many people don’t know how to approach the issue.

Supporting a loved one with substance use disorder involves making them understand how substances are deteriorating their own life and the well-being of others in their family and friend group. Driving them to treatment, offering to help them enroll in a program, or researching which programs appeal to them and similar offers are the best way to help them get healthy and for the family unit to heal. Setting up boundaries that involve only assisting them if they are reaching out for help to get treatment is a vital step in ending the enabling cycle. This isn’t revoking love or support for the person struggling, but rather making it clear that no one who loves them wants to have a hand in making their situation worse, only better.

Stop the cycle of enabling and addiction today by reaching out to HCRC. Knowledgeable and compassionate administrative staff, medical providers, and nurses are specialized in substance use disorder treatment and treat every patient with the dignity and respect they deserve. Message or call the nearest HCRC office today to learn more.

Medically Reviewed By:

Health Care Resource Centers Clinical Team

Health Care Resource Centers Clinical Team

Health Care Resource Centers Clinical Team

The Clinical Team at Health Care Resource Centers is our team of physicians and medical directors within the organization. HCRC is a CARF accredited organization and has been providing addiction treatment services for over 32 years in the New England area.

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