Supporting an Addict: How to Help Without Being an Enabler
When someone you care about is coping with addiction or struggling with a transition from our sober homes to yours, you may be wondering how to best help your loved one without enabling his or her addictive behavior. The good news is that there are supportive and helpful things you can do to help them succeed in their recovery while avoiding the pitfalls of the past.
Let’s start with an understanding of what we mean by enabling vs. helping.
What Is an Enabler?
Enablers are people who protect addicts from the natural consequences of their addiction. Perhaps with the best intentions or without realizing it, they support the addiction with their thoughts, words, and deeds. They create a cushion around addicts and participate in secrets, lies, and denial, allowing addiction to control not only their loved ones, but their own lives as well.
By participating in creating a permissive and safe place for drug use, enablers begin to feel responsible for the addiction. They try to make up for their misplaced feelings of guilt and responsibility by making things easier for addicts. They invest increasing amounts of time, money, and energy to counteract the destructive effects of addiction.
These efforts only delay or prevent the addicted person from seeking treatment. Becoming clean and sober is hard work, and it needs to be fueled by the motivating consequences of addiction. If the associated pain and loss of alcohol or drug abuse is never experienced because of an enabler, there is no driving force pushing the addict toward recovery.
Warning Signs You May Be an Enabler:
- Minimizing or denying the problem
- Blaming yourself or others for the addicted person’s behavior
- Justifying or making excuses for their actions
- Taking over their responsibilities or paying their bills
- Allowing substance abuse to continue or participating in it
- Keeping secrets and suppressing your true feelings
- Using controlling or punishing tactics
What Is the Difference Between Empowering and Enabling?
When we truly help someone, we empower them to do the things they cannot do alone, while holding them responsible for the things they could do for themselves if they were sober.
- We can help maintain a sober house so that they can work on their recovery, but require that they contribute to housework and bills.
- We can drive them to meetings and doctor’s appointments if they have lost their license, but let them do their own research and legwork to regain their driver’s license.
- We can allow them to experience the consequences of their own behavior rather than interfering and making our own behavior the focus.
- We can learn to recognize and change our own enabling or codependent behavior.
What Is Codependency?
Codependency is a mental health condition where an individual seeks out relationships where they can be the enabler. Usually, the problem is rooted in a dysfunctional family history that normalizes abuse, mental illness, or addiction, leading to a tendency to pursue obsessive or one-sided relationships as an adult.
Codependent people might try to prevent their loved ones from seeking treatment or entering a sober living environment because, if their loved ones stop using, the dynamic of the relationship is fundamentally changed without the dysfunctional influence of the addiction. Recognizing that you can break your own addiction to dysfunctional relationships is an empowering step for those struggling with codependency.
Part of changing the pattern of codependency includes accepting these truths:
- You do not need to deny the existence of addiction in your relationship.
- You cannot control the addicted person’s drug use.
- You are not responsible to rescue the addict.
- You don’t need to ask for or accept any more promises.
- You do not need to nag, preach, negotiate, or coax the addict.
- You will not accept any further abuse of yourself or your children.
- You have the power to stop being the victim of addiction.
How to Effectively Help Your Loved Ones with Addiction
So, how do we help active and recovering addicts to overcome their addictions? The key to most of these strategies is setting appropriate boundaries which prevent you from becoming an active participant in their addictive behaviors.
This may mean adopting an attitude of caring detachment, where we offer the right resources and access to treatment without standing in the way of life’s motivating consequences. We stop rescuing and start encouraging meaningful change.
We allow our loved ones to come face-to-face with their addictions and to choose their own paths to sobriety, through outpatient rehab, recovery houses, or sober homes. Although this process may be difficult to watch, we recognize that this struggle does not belong to us, and only addicts can do the work to achieve freedom from their addictions.
Yet, what can we do to help support their recovery and achieve healing for ourselves?
Find a Meeting
Support groups provide a safe place to share your feelings and experiences with people who have been through similar situations. Al-Anon and Nar-Anon are two examples, or you may be able to find a group through your house of worship or a local addiction recovery center. These groups will help you recognize your own enabling behaviors and offer alternatives and counseling, which can help you help your loved one.
Set and Uphold Boundaries
Setting clear boundaries and following through when those limits are violated will help you hold your family members accountable for their actions. Doing so allows them to regain their self-respect by meeting their commitments or dealing with the outcome themselves.
Give Back Their Responsibilities
Expect and hold your loved one responsible for the normal duties of a sober adult. Especially if you have taken on more than your share of the household chores, financial management, and scheduling, hand these important responsibilities back to their rightful owner. If the addicts are unable to manage the necessities of daily life, they need the chance to recognize that fact.
Keep It Real
Have you been smoothing the way by lying, hiding, or making excuses for addicts? When you participate in justifying or covering up their behavior, you imply acceptance and approval. Now is the time for clarity and honest self-evaluation.
When you stop weaving a web of lies around the addiction, the false safety net falls apart, and both you and your loved one experience reality clearly. This hard bump that opens our eyes allows us to see a path forward.
Participate in Healing
Family therapy is available at outpatient recovery programs in partnership with our sober living homes. By attending with your family member, friend, or loved one, you can begin to heal the relationship, communicate honestly, and directly address any underlying issues that might stand in the way of recovery or increase the risk of relapse.
Participating in the recovery program and family counseling allows you to face the issue head-on and demonstrates your support of the recovery process itself. The people you care about have a life-long journey ahead of them, which will be full of triumphs and challenges. Your willingness to be present is the best support.
By engaging in treatment, you accept the reality of the addiction and take back control of your life. You can lead the way or be pulled along, but this recovery journey will necessarily affect you as well. You also have the opportunity to seize the resources available and truly change your own life.
Going One Step Further
We know that it is right and appropriate to help people do the things they cannot accomplish alone. Lifting the other end of a heavy load is helpful, but not if that weight is bigger than both of you. Very often, your two hands are not enough to help your loved ones overcome their addictions.
They may need 24/7 professional help in a sober living facility like RECO Institute in Delray Beach. Our sober homes offer a safe and supportive place to begin the journey or protect the recovery progress. We also offer outpatient follow-up care and family therapy through our partnership with RECO Intensive. We understand that addiction impacts entire families, that unacceptable behavior can be changed, and that healing is possible for anyone—no matter his or her starting point.
Taking the brave step of reaching out to us is something you can do to help your loved ones. Let them know that you support a decision to seek treatment and that you will participate. You can be the sober friend who helps them see a path forward. Contact us today to learn how!