What is the difference between loving and helping versus enabling and hurting someone struggling with addiction?
Loving an addict is HARD.
On one hand, you are the person closest to them, so your painful perspective lets you see firsthand the chaos that substance abuse brings into their life – the pain, the needless drama, the danger they present to themselves and others, and the waste of a life held back by addiction.
On the other hand, this perspective also comes with the desperate thought that YOU are the only person who can save the addict. In your mind, ONLY YOU can keep your addicted loved one from being homeless on the streets, being arrested and sent to jail, starving to death, having their children taken away, or some other fate too horrible to imagine.
At least, that’s how it seems to you.
So, you pay their utilities and rent, hire their attorney, take care of their fines, buy their meals, and cover for them with your family, their job, and even the authorities. You pick them up, clean them up, and back them up, no matter what it costs you emotionally or financially.
Enabling —When Helping Hurts
“Encourage, but don’t enable. Helping people is wonderful, but carrying someone who could walk by themselves will only slow you both down.”
~Doe Zantamata, Happiness in your Life—Book One: Karma
Unfortunately, you are far TOO CLOSE to this situation to be objective. On the contrary, your blind love for the addict makes it impossible for you to do what is best for the addict… or yourself.
YES, you are helping the addict avoid the worst consequences of their addiction-driven behaviors. YES, largelybecause of you, they have a warm and safe place to live, they won’t starve, they aren’t sitting in jail, and they are alive.
At least… for now.
Because in the long run, you are doing far more harm than good. When you clean up after them and constantly shield them from the consequences of their problematic behavior, you are “enabling” their addiction to continue. And this is one of the worst things you can do.
Naturally, your first instinct is to help your addicted loved one. You might feel it is your duty to “solve” their problem. But what really ends up happening is you start taking on the responsibilities of the addict, freeing them up to drink and use as much as they want.
When an addict is completely insulated from the emotional, legal, and financial damage their actions have caused, there is no motivation for them to change.
Sick and Tired of Being Tired and Sick
You’ve heard it time and time again – an addict must WANT help and must WANT to change.
But here’s the thing – they will not ask for help or try to change unless there is a reason. Their life of active addiction must become unacceptable to them to the point that they are willing to do almost anything to get better.
In 12-Step programs, participants admit that their substance use has gone beyond their control and that as a result, their lives have become unmanageable. This is the First Step of Recovery.
Most addicts and alcoholics have to hit rock bottom before they are ready to make that admission. This is their lowest point, and it is different for everyone. For some, it is a breakup or divorce, while for others, it’s landing in jail. Many simply get tired of the way they feel.
If someone never has to face the consequences and repercussions of their actions, they will probably never hit their rock bottom. In other words, they will never feel the need to change what they are doing.
When you do for them what they could and should do for themselves, you are actively standing in the way of the First Step of their recovery. And that is the exact opposite of what you really want to achieve.
Since 1978, Chapman House has been helping individuals and families in crisis because of substance abuse and behavioral issues. If you are worried about the role that you are playing in someone else’s addiction, contact Chapman House today to find out what you can do to help the addict in your life.
by Albert Fontenot