It’s hard to watch a dear friend or loved one struggle with addiction. You want to see their life get better. You want to help them. You do what you can to be an asset and an encourager.
Only, what if you’re not actually helping? What if, despite your best intentions, what you’re really doing is enabling?
It can happen, and the line is a fuzzy one. Ultimately, real help always has the end goal of seeing your friend or loved one seek treatment and long-term recovery. Enabling, meanwhile, makes it easier for your friend or loved one to continue using drugs or alcohol—not changing, not getting better.
You may be enabling without quite realizing it. Here are some of the most common ways in which well-meaning friends and family members enable addiction:
Lending money. The only time it’s ever really wise to lend money to someone struggling with addiction is if it’s needed for healthcare—that is, if it’s really life-or-death. Otherwise, a money loan is more likely than not going to go toward more drugs or alcohol.
Having drugs or alcohol available. Don’t keep them in your home. Don’t do anything to make these things more easily accessible to the person with addiction.
Lying on their behalf. Subsets of this include making excuses or keeping secrets for your friend or loved one who has addiction—all forms of enablement.
Denying the problem. Finally, and most crucially, note that it is a form of enablement to be anything less than real about the true gravity of the problem.
What then can you do to offer real help? Pledge your ongoing support and encouragement—and urge your loved one to seek recovery through an addiction treatment program. That, ultimately, is the best thing you can ever do for someone with addiction.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction. Accessed March 21, 2016.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), What to Do If You Have a Problem with Drugs: For Adults. Accessed March 26, 2016.
- NCBI, The Impact of Substance Use Disorders on Families and Children: From Theory to Practice. Accessed March 5, 2016.
- Medline Plus, The Science of Addiction: Drugs, Brains, and Behavior. Spring 2007, Accessed March 4, 2016.