The Difference Between Helping and Enabling an Addict

In For Friends, For Parents by Rebecca Flad

In situations where a loved one is suffering from addiction, it becomes necessary to take hold of the situation and give aid. However, in these situations, there is a fine line between supporting and enabling. When you truly love an addict, your support can easily become enabling if you are not aware of the difference between the two. You may have the greatest intentions, but knowing where to draw the line is a key step in someone suffering from addiction. Not all loved ones of an addict know exactly how to help or aid the situation. Of course, they will try all they can to make things better, but what is enabling and what is helping?


Enabling can be defined as when a loved one, at times unknowingly, support the addict’s addiction and helps them justify it. Family and friends often offer a shoulder to cry on while shielding them from the consequences and results of their addiction. They simply want the addict to get better, but they do not realize that justifying their actions are only making it worse. Simply taking the words of an addict wishing to recover while they continue to use is enabling, because you know they are doing wrong, but you take their words as truthful anyway.

Tell-Tale Signs of Enabling

  • Denial

A friend or family member simply does not want to accept or acknowledge their loved one’s addiction and abuse. They act as though nothing is wrong and continue to go about their daily lived with the addiction “seemingly” unnoticed. This not only continue the loved one’s addiction, but it is telling them that it is okay and that there are no consequences.

  • Secrets

Keeping secrets for your addicted loved one is enabling them and involving yourself int heir addiction. They will be encouraged to rely on you to support their addiction as a whole.

  • Control

Taking to much control of the situation simply drives the addicted away. In turn, this causes the addiction to last even longer with no signs of things getting resolved.

  • Justification

When you justify an addict’s actions, you are giving them more reasons to continue their drug abuse. Not only are you enabling the affected, but you are showing them that there are valid reasons behind their addiction. It gives them a cause and second opinion as to why their addiction is not a problem.

  • Protection

There truly is something as protecting the family name. When a family member is addicted, the rest of their family might take it into their own hands and do nothing about the problem as to not give off a bad image. They will also take measures as to hide their loved one’s addiction, knowingly.

  • Negativity

Playing the blame game and becoming controlling only pushes your loved one away. Throwing things in their face does the same. Mixing negativity into the situation is going to give the affected more reasons to use.


There are many appropriate ways to support and help your loved one without taking the risk of enabling them. This is simple and can be done by involving the entire family. Some ways to help a suffering addict include:

  • Acceptance

The first step is to accept the fact that your loved one is suffering from addiction. You can then build a strategy off of that.

  • Family Therapy

Family and group therapy is a great way to sit down and talk the addiction out. With this, you can easily tackle the situation and find out what the cause of the addiction is. You may then discuss ways on how you’re going to help your loved one through their recovery.

  • Commit to Treatment

In order for your loved one to get better, treatment must be committed to. Allowing your loved one to slack and miss treatment is enabling them to continue to use and stay an addict. Once you’ve found good treatment options, it’s important to stick with it to the end.