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Difference Between Helping and Enabling in Recovery

a man sits in a dark room with other individuals who are listening to someone talk about the difference between helping and enabling addiction

So many people have loved ones with addiction that they desire to help but have no idea where to begin. Especially when the more they ask you for help, the more you could be hurting them. This scenario is seen time and time again. A family thinks they are helping a loved one with substance use or addiction, but they are worsening the situation. Whether it is intentional or not, this is known as enabling. Enabling can cause your love to be taken advantage of.

Evoke Waltham is here to help. We provide a rehab aftercare program for those who have gone through treatment. Recovery is not just about getting off of drugs and alcohol but also learning how to live a life free from addiction, and that’s where we come in. Our mission is to provide addiction support services to provide a meaningful and lasting impact on our community and its members.

Call us today at 866.276.1920 to learn more about the difference between helping and enabling addiction and how you can get the help you and your family may need.

Why Is It Important to Recognize Helping vs. Enabling in Addiction?

Recognizing the difference between helping and enabling addiction is crucial as it directly impacts recovery. When we help, we assist the person in making progress and becoming self-sufficient, fostering an environment conducive to overcoming addiction.

However, enabling, although well-intended, often results in the perpetuation of the addiction cycle. Enabling behaviors can subconsciously validate the person’s substance use, shielding them from the consequences of their actions and thereby hindering their motivation to seek help. Here are some reasons why it’s essential to understand the difference between helping and enabling addiction:

  • Promotes accountability
  • Fosters recovery
  • Prevents unintentional harm
  • Maintains healthy relationships
  • Educates about addiction
  • Encourages self-sufficiency

Recognizing the difference between helping and enabling addiction can also help individuals take responsibility for their recovery, making it more likely that they will achieve long-term sobriety.

Helping vs. Enabling in Recovery

Understanding the difference between helping and enabling addiction recovery is crucial for those who have loved ones struggling with substance use.

What Is Enabling?

Enabling happens when the family members or friends of a person with addiction support that person’s addiction through thoughts or behaviors. They essentially act as a cushion for the individual with addiction and prevent them from facing the consequences of their addiction.

There are many different ways you could be enabling your loved one versus helping them including:

Making Excuses for Your Loved One’s Addiction

When excuses are made for your loved one’s addiction, you are providing them an escape from the consequences of their actions. You are creating a reality where addiction is not a problem. As a result, you enable them to continue their substance use.

Providing Them with Money

The money you give them could be going right to their habit. On the other hand, you may also not be paying for their addiction directly, but in other ways, you are enabling their use and ridding them of their consequences, such as paying their bills and food or bailing them out of jail. When you give them money, you give them another reason to dismiss their financial responsibilities.

Covering Up for Them

A considerable difference between enabling and helping them is how you choose to hold them responsible for their actions. This is another form of enabling if you lie to them about how their actions have affected you.


Codependency means your loved one’s addiction fuels your satisfaction. As the enabler in the situation, you thrive off of their issues. Understandably, you may not recognize your desire for their dysfunction.

Putting Their Needs Before Your Own

When you are the kind of person known for putting others for yourself, you are very susceptible to enabling a loved one with an addiction. But you are likely doing as much damage to yourself as to them.

What Is Helping?

Helping in addiction recovery is any action promoting the individual’s willingness and ability to seek and maintain sobriety. This could range from emotional support to practical assistance like finding a suitable treatment program.

Here are a few examples of how you can help a loved one in addiction recovery:

Offering Emotional Support

Listening to their experiences and feelings without judgment can relieve your loved one immensely. Encouragement and reassurance can also instill hope and motivate them to continue their recovery journey.

Educating Yourself About Addiction

Understanding addiction as a mental health condition can enhance your empathy towards your loved one and equip you with the knowledge to provide appropriate support.

Encouraging Treatment

Encourage your loved one to seek professional help. You can assist them in finding a suitable treatment program and even accompany them to appointments if needed.

Setting Boundaries

Establishing and enforcing boundaries can protect your well-being while also teaching your loved one to respect your needs. It also prevents you from falling into the enabling pattern.

Supporting Healthy Lifestyle Changes

Promote activities that contribute to a healthier lifestyle, such as regular exercise, balanced nutrition, and engaging hobbies. These behaviors can support recovery by improving overall well-being and providing positive outlets for stress.

Call Evoke Waltham Today to Get the Resources and Support You Need

The best way to help is to stop waiting and hoping that things will get better on their own, but you cannot walk around with blinders and allow someone’s substance use to ruin your life. This does not mean they cannot be in your life, but boundaries must be set to protect yourself and your loved one. They must be in your life on your terms.

One of the most helpful things you can do is let them know how they are hurting you and help them seek treatment for their addiction. It may not be an easy process to stop enabling and start helping. Truly assisting a loved one with addiction takes the form of tough love, and that can be difficult to stick to, but allowing a loved one to get sober and recover from addiction can make the difference between life and death.

To learn more about helping someone through their addiction and recovery, contact us today at 866.276.1920. We provide an aftercare program for those who have gone through treatment, and we can help you get the resources and support you need.