Enabling Addiction vs. Support: What’s the Difference?

If you care about someone with a drug or alcohol problem, there’s a chance you may be enabling addiction when you mean to support them. Whether it’s a matter of safety, as would be the case in identifying alcohol poisoning so you can take a friend to the hospital, or it’s a matter of decorum, as would be the case if you don’t bring up the topic of addiction because it doesn’t seem appropriate, the difference between helping and enabling is a fine line that can be crossed easily.

It’s important to understand why enabling a loved one’s addiction is so harmful. It’s also important to tell if your behavior is helpful or not, and if it’s not, to learn how you can go from enabling to supporting.

Why Enabling Is so Harmful

enabling addiction is harmful

The first step in understanding why enabling alcohol or drug abuse is so harmful is understanding the definition of “enabling.”

Being an enabler means you’re there to fix, solve, or reduce consequences for a person who is struggling with an addiction. When the effects of your loved one’s addiction are reduced or eliminated, it’s easy for them to believe that they don’t really have a problem. And if they don’t think they have a problem, they are unlikely to get help.

As the people around them take on more and more of their daily responsibilities, they have more time to devote to their addiction. In some cases, enabling behavior can accelerate the effects of their addiction. In other cases, it simply enables them to continue abusing drugs or alcohol for years before realizing they have a problem, if they ever come to that realization at all.


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Enabling can be harmful to the person with the problem, but it can also be harmful to your family and friends, as it can greatly affect the quality of your relationships. Others may see enabling behavior as unhelpful, but for the person doing the enabling, this is probably unintentional. This can lead to conflicts which both weaken relationships and make it harder to find help for your loved one struggling with a substance use disorder.

Enabling a loved one can be harmful to you as well. By enabling someone you love, you may end up spending more time taking care of them, which can decrease the time you have to nurture relationships with friends or work toward professional goals. Moreover, enabling takes a mental and emotional toll, and after a period, you may see your own mental health decline.

How to Tell if You’re Supporting or Enabling an Addiction

No one wants to believe they are enabling addiction. And almost every enabler does it because they think they are helping. When you know someone is struggling, especially if it’s someone you love, you want to do whatever you can to make their life easier. You should not feel bad for following that impulse. Unfortunately, what’s easier now can make things more difficult for them in the long run.

Enabling addiction includes behaviors like:

  • Ignoring or not talking about your loved one’s behavior directly
  • Giving them money for any reason. Because of the nature of addiction, many people in active addiction lie about why they need money. This is not evidence of a fault of character, though; it is simply how addiction functions.
  • Making excuses to help preserve the other person’s feelings
  • Sacrificing things in your own life to make theirs easier
  • Not following through with boundaries and expectations

The biggest signs of enabling addiction are in the details. It’s normal to sacrifice a few things for those we love. For example, you may sacrifice sleep to stay up with a sick child so your partner feels rested in the morning. However, if you’re doing your adult child’s laundry so they have something clean to wear to work after a weekend of partying, you could be enabling them.

Tips for Switching to More Supportive Behaviors

drug and alcohol addiction Supportive Behaviors

If you think you may be enabling addiction, it’s important to learn how to stop enabling them. That might mean no longer paying their bills, doing their laundry, or making excuses for them.

However, it’s important to be open and honest about what you’re doing. Remember, the goal is not to punish anybody; it’s to set healthy boundaries and hold everyone accountable for their actions. And if your loved one has gotten used to being enabled, cutting them off abruptly could lead to a confrontation. Instead, be open with why your behavior is changing. Trust and honesty are the best ways to help a loved one, which means telling them if you worry about their behavior, which behaviors you’re going to stop, and why you’re going to stop them.

Being patient and sticking to your boundaries is important. Avoid nagging, criticizing, yelling, and exaggerating. Let them know you’re there to help when they are ready. In the meantime, join an Al Anon group to get the support you need to support your loved one.

Thankfully, you can still support your loved one without enabling them. For example, you can choose to share resources with them when they start taking their recovery seriously. Now, keep in mind that letting them move in with you because they say they are ready to get help is enabling. However, if they begin researching treatment centers, they have started attending meetings, or they have recently graduated from a program, this same behavior may be a sign that they’re ready for real, healthy support.

If you’re at a point where you think you can talk about Las Vegas addiction treatment facilities with your loved one, the Vance Johnson Recovery Center is here to help you. To speak with an admissions specialist and get your questions answered, call 888-828-2623 or click here to fill out our online contact form.

An enabler is a person whose behavior is intended as supportive, but allows another person to continue patterns of behavior that are destructive. For example, letting a person abuse drugs or alcohol live with you is an example of sheltering them from the consequences of their actions.

Heather is a content writer from Ohio who has a sincere passion for psychology and addiction recovery. Her areas of interest include alcoholism, depression, and recovery options, to name a few.

Any behavior on your part that allows a friend or family member to continue destructive behaviors is enabling. You are an enabler if you willingly ignore a drug problem, make their life easier when they aren’t addressing their problem, or you regularly make excuses for their behavior to help them save face.

Enabling addiction is not intentional, but changing your behavior is the best thing you can do both for your loved one and for yourself.

Heather is a content writer from Ohio who has a sincere passion for psychology and addiction recovery. Her areas of interest include alcoholism, depression, and recovery options, to name a few.

Enabling someone means that your actions allow another person to continue or increase a behavior that is harmful to their mental or physical health.

Heather is a content writer from Ohio who has a sincere passion for psychology and addiction recovery. Her areas of interest include alcoholism, depression, and recovery options, to name a few.

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