How to Help an Addict Without Enabling

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Peace Valley Recovery is located in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Our mission is to provide patient-centered care that focuses on healing and recovery from addiction. This blog provides information, news, and uplifting content to help people in their recovery journey.

Authored by Elliott Redwine, | Medically Reviewed by Peace Valley Recovery Editorial Staff,
Last Updated: March 5, 2023

Addiction is tough. It’s painful to watch your loved one struggle with drug addiction while feeling like nothing you do makes a difference. Families want to know what they can do to help their loved ones, but few understand how to help an addict without enabling them. There’s a fine line between supporting their attempts to stop and keeping them sick.

The longer you enable your loved one, the longer it delays their recovery. If you want to know effective ways to help an addict without enabling them, we can help. Here at Peace Valley Recovery, we know and understand the challenges that drug addiction causes for both you, your loved one, and your whole family.

You must learn to recognize where the line between helping and enabling lies. The more you know about the differences between the two, the better your chances of being helpful. This list of healthy, effective ways to support your loved one on their path to recovery is a great place to start.

What Is Enabling?

Enabling happens when friends or family members unintentionally support drug abuse through their behaviors or thoughts. For example, they may:

  • Give the person money when they’re short of rent despite knowing it will go to buying drugs
  • Ignore unusual behaviors or actions in hopes they’ll stop naturally
  • Not report dangerous or harmful acts, such as stealing from family members or friends because of the potential implications

These behaviors shield the user from experiencing the full consequences of their drug abuse. Well-intentioned actions are twisted into a “free pass” to continue their substance abuse.

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This distorted view can delay or even prevent seeking treatment.

The good news is that there are several ways to encourage your loved one to stop using and get the professional help they need.

The Six Family Roles in Addiction

Active addiction not only affects the person using drugs or alcohol, but it also affects their entire family. Individuals who abuse drugs and alcohol tend to be erratic and unpredictable, leaving their confused family members to pick up the pieces. Addiction pushes family members to their breaking points and forces each person to conform in one way or another.

You may have heard of the six dysfunctional family roles in addiction before. As family members adapt to the unpredictable nature of their loved one’s addiction, each individual copes in their own way. These coping skills usually fit into one of six different categories or “roles” within the family. Each role enables the individual with the problem in some way, either directly or indirectly.

How Drug Addiction Affects the Entire Family

Not all families have one person who fills each role. Sometimes one member fills multiple roles and other times some roles are left unfilled. Recognizing these general descriptions and behavior patterns is one part of how to help an addict without enabling.

The Addict

The addict is the individual who abuses substances and becomes the focal point of the family. Most of the family’s attention is directed toward the addict whether they realize it or not. The addict takes time, energy, and money from their families. Family members enable the addict’s behavior by covering up for mistakes or behaving a certain way to maintain the status quo.