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helping vs enabling

Helping vs Enabling: The Top Signs You’re Enabling Someone with a Substance Abuse Addiction

Throughout the U.S., more than 21.5 million people over the age of 12 suffer from some kind of substance abuse disorder.

Do you have a loved one who’s struggling with addiction? 

It’s not easy watching your loved one suffer, and most of us are willing to do whatever it takes to help them feel better.

The problem, though, is that we can often make things worse instead of better when we’re trying to help people we care about. A lot of people don’t understand the difference between helping vs enabling.

If you’re confused about the difference between these two things, keep reading. Below are some important clarifications that will help you determine whether you’re making things better or worse for your loved one.

Helping vs Enabling: What’s the Difference?

At first, glance, helping and enabling can seem like synonyms. They’re very different, though.

Helping is all about doing for someone what they can’t do for themselves. Enabling involves shielding someone from experiencing the full impact and consequences of their behavior. 

Still confused about the difference? It’s easier to understand the distinction between the two when you consider what enabling looks like.

Signs of Enabling

If you’re enabling someone who suffers from an addiction, you might not realize that you’re doing it. Here are some behaviors that people who enable addicts tend to exhibit:


Are you in denial about your loved one’s addiction? Do you refuse to accept that they have a problem? Have you convinced yourself that they don’t need treatment or that they’re doing fine because they’re still “functional”?

Suppressing Feelings

Do you refuse to acknowledge or express your concerns about your loved one? Do you push aside your feelings because you don’t want your loved one to get upset?


Do you make excuses for your loved one? Do you try to justify their substance abuse because they have a stressful job or have a lot going on in their personal life? Have you convinced yourself that their substance abuse is only temporary and will get better with time?

Helping the Abuse to Continue

Do you allow your loved one to consume drugs or alcohol in your home? Have you convinced yourself that it’s better for them to consume them around you than to consume them elsewhere? Have you ever purchased alcohol or drugs for your loved one when they didn’t have the money to buy them themselves?

Assuming Responsibilities

Do you take over your loved one’s responsibilities? Have you made excuses for them to explain why they’re not showing up at work or school? Do you try to explain away their behaviors to other friends or family members?

How to Stop Enabling

After answering those questions, you probably have a clearer idea of what enabling behavior looks like. Do any of those behaviors resonate with you? If so, you’re probably enabling your loved one. 

If you are enabling your loved one, there’s good news. There are lots of different steps you can take to stop enabling them and start helping them. 

Here are some tips that will help you stop being an enabler:

Accept That They Have a Problem

The first thing you need to do is acknowledge that your loved one does, indeed, have an addiction. Accept that they have a problem and stop trying to minimize and explain things away.

Cut Off Resources

Stop giving your loved one money or making excuses for their behavior. Make it clear that you are no longer going to fund their addiction or try to cover up for them.

Hold Them Accountable

Avoid bailing your loved one out. If they don’t have enough money to pay a bill or are in trouble at work for missing shifts, they have to deal with the consequences. It’s not your job to protect them from these consequences.

Accept Their Reactions

There’s a good chance that your loved one is not going to respond well to these new boundaries or your decision to cut off their resources. Brace yourself for these negative reactions and don’t give in if they get upset.

Get Help for Yourself

It’s hard to put boundaries in place and change the way you behave, especially if you’ve been enabling your loved one for a long time. Attending counseling sessions or support group meetings can make it a lot easier and help you get what you need to stay strong even when things get difficult.

How to Help Your Loved One

When you stop enabling your loved one, you free yourself up to start helping them. By giving up enabling behavior, you’ll be able to devote your time and resources to help them begin to recover. 

The following are some specific steps you can take to start helping and stop enabling:

  • Talk to your loved one honestly and express your concerns
  • Stage an intervention to let them know how their behavior has affected you and others in your life
  • Let them know that you love and support them, but that you will not allow their behavior to continue
  • Encourage them to seek help from a treatment clinic or attend meetings with a support group

There are lots of different steps you can take to encourage your loved one to get the help they need.

Remember, though, that sometimes, the best thing you can do is to give them space. If they’re not receptive to your efforts to help, let them know that you love them and will be there for them when they’re ready to make a change. 

Get Help for Your Loved One Today

It’s not always easy to spot the difference between helping vs enabling.

Once you understand the difference, though, it’s important to make changes to ensure you’re actually helping your loved one to get better instead of keeping them trapped in the cycle of addiction. 

Do you need help encouraging your loved one to get the treatment they need? Do you live in or around the Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania area?

If so, we can help at Brain Spark Health.

Contact us today to learn more about our addiction treatment services or to schedule an appointment to come and visit our clinic.