What is the Difference Between Supporting and Enabling?
Nobody likes seeing a loved one suffering from addiction or alcoholism. The desire to do all you can to help and alleviate his or her pain is natural. However, if you find yourself in this situation, there are some dos and don’ts that should be followed. Although the line is fine, there is one between supporting and/or helping an addict or alcoholic and enabling his or her addiction. And because it is such a fine line, and difficult for loved ones to discern the difference, it is one that gets crossed frequently. Support is great; addicts and alcoholics need lots of it, however, enabling is detrimental to both the addict and you. Knowing the difference will help you know how best to be there for your loved who is still using or drinking excessively.
Understanding the Difference
Simply stated, helping an addict or alcoholic is offering to do something that he or she is incapable of doing for him or herself. But in doing so, it does not make it easy for him to use or drink or obviate her of the responsibility of her self-made situation.
Examples can include:
- Your loved one is ill with the flu and cannot cook for himself
- Your loved one is on parole and needs transportation to her parole officer
- Your loved one lost his driver’s license, but the closest AA/NA meeting is not on a bus route or the bus passes through a neighborhood he used to frequent to buy drugs
- Your loved one landed a job but doesn’t have the money to buy a car. You agree to shuttle back and forth until she can save the money to buy a car. You do not give her the money to buy a car.
Beyond that, it is really easy to start crossing the line into enabling territory. If your loved one lives with you, there will always be a certain amount of support and help being asked of you. This is inevitable. The key is to be able to be able to immediately recognize the difference so your best intentions aren’t inadvertently allowing your loved one to use or drink. Addicts and alcoholics are cunning and very shrewd. Sometimes they request help out of genuine need, and other times they are completely cognizant that they are taking advantage of your kindness.
Enabling is what happens when helping your addicted loved one to either avoid the consequences of his using or by helping, she is put in a position where she can make poor choices. Generally speaking, it is never advisable to give any addict/alcoholic money. This is the case whether he is still using or she is very new in recovery. Asking an addict not to spend money on drugs is futile. Despite your insistence that it be used for rent money, to buy a car or groceries, left to his own devices, he will invariably make the wrong choice. Remember, this isn’t out of malice; addiction has such a strong hold that money in hand is too tempting for the voice who wants him or her to use. It will be so strong that it is more powerful than your logic, reason or desire to help.
Some other examples of enabling are not so obvious. Here are a few that you may have done in the past or have considered doing.
- Calling in sick for a loved one who was out drinking or using the night before
- Your loved one gets drunk at a social gathering, and makes a fool of himself. You make excuses like,oh, he had a bad day at work and needed to unwind.
- If a loved one continually misses family functions, making excuses to the family is not acceptable. It lets your loved one off the hook for her behavior.
- Caring for his children so he can use, although a very difficult one, is one that many parents will do. It doesn’t help the addict, you or your grandchildren. Offering him help into a rehab facility to kick the habit and then offering to take care of your grandchildren is a better solution.
- Allowing a loved one to verbally, emotionally or physically abuse you is never acceptable. Making excuses for the abuse suffered is one that many enablers find themselves doing.
The Rule of Thumb
When faced with the question of whether your actions or offers to help are considered being supportive or enabling, there are a few things you can ask yourself to determine for certain. If you help, will it prevent him from taking responsibility for his own actions? Will helping allow her to use or drink? Will it prevent him from hitting bottom? If you are constantly holding up your loved one to keep him from finally hitting bottom, you are doing both of you a disservice. Let him fall! It’s really the only way he will get the help he needs.