Defining Enabling and Learning to Help More Than Hurt

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Addiction is a complicated disease, and those that suffer from addiction are faced with challenges on a daily basis. However,  one’s family, friends, and loved ones can also be profoundly affected. While it is tempting for supports to jump in and help in any way possible, it is important to do so in an educated way to ensure that one’s actions aren’t having an adverse effect than intended. Helping a loved one through addiction is a noble effort, but one’s efforts to help can also mask enabling practices. Learning the forms that enabling can take and how to properly help a loved one is essential in overcoming addiction as an effective unit. 

What Does it Mean to “Enable?”

Enabling is an often enigmatic term. While many consider it as the act of actively helping an individual continue engaging in self-destructive behaviors, it is a lot more complicated than providing one who suffers from addiction a bottle of whiskey. Enabling is any act that can allow an individual to continue engaging in a desired behavior, whether this behavior is a destructive addiction or their own success. Not only can this be actively providing one with a place to drink or use drugs, but it can also manifest as inaction when faced with prevalent destructive behavior. 

Not punishing an individual, quickly forgiving an individual for their continued use of an addictive substance, or lack of accountability when tending to responsibilities can be a form of enabling. Addiction creates a great deal of emotional turmoil, and while forgiveness is necessary, it is still important to earn this forgiveness through profound change. 

Others may inadvertently be enabling others by not contacting other supportive recovery avenues. Wanting to help a loved one keep their secret while working to overcome addiction can be a positive sentiment, but it is also denying an individual resources they may otherwise need for a sustained sobriety.  Helping to cover financial costs such as rent or groceries or helping an individual tend to daily chores can all feel like helpful supportive practices. However, they also allow an individual to maintain the schedule and priorities they already have, mitigating the need for change. Addiction often involves many loved ones, friends, and family. However, helping an individual by taking on responsibilities or obligations without a sense of accountability is an enabling behavior that needs to cease. 

Moving from Enabling to Helping

Helping a loved one through addiction is a complicated and difficult endeavor filled with tough emotions and decisions. However, learning to effectively help a loved one is essential for profound and sustained change. Properly supporting a loved one through addiction recovery while avoiding enabling behaviors is an acquired skill, and demands each person balance their supportive practices with learning when to step back and let those in recovery make changes themselves. 

Creating Accountability

While support is necessary throughout the recovery process, it is still important to keep loved ones accountable for their actions during their journey to sobriety. This can be emotionally taxing, but also a necessary practice. In order for those suffering from addiction to understand the widespread ramifications of addiction and embrace the need for change in their own lives, accountability is necessary. This can mean agreeing to help an individual begin to balance their own finances, but not putting forth any of one’s own money to help with these crucial elements if they can be budgeted for instead. Others may approach this accountability by creating written lists or rules or expectations to follow during recovery. 

Knowing what is expected of a loved one suffering from addiction and agreeing on clear consequences of one’s actions, both positive and negative, is essential. It is just as important to be prepared to hold others accountable for what they need to do as it is to reward these actions properly when these substantial changes are made. Each decision those in recovery make has weight to it, and accountability is a profound exercise in agency and responsibility that should be acknowledged. 

Creating Boundaries

Getting involved in a loved one’s recovery can feel overwhelming with a plethora of new needs and changes. However, it is also important to distance oneself from these supportive roles in order to prioritize one’s own emotional health. Setting aside time for oneself can help not only embrace and model effective self-care behavior and ensure that one can avoid burnout and compassion fatigue, but it can also leave those suffering from addiction to make their own profound decisions for their continued health and sobriety. 

There is a fine line between supportive practices and enabling behavior. At Avalon Malibu, located in Malibu, California, we understand the unique position that supports are often put in as a result of their desire to help their loved ones. Learning to support in an educated way is essential to recovering as a unified unit, and we are prepared to help you and your loved one take their first, powerful steps in recovery at our comprehensive and beautiful facility. We offer an array of programs, from detox and residential care to partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs, in order to help your loved one at any stage in their recovery process, all while backing any of our programs with profound education for all involved in the recovery process. Couples and family therapy options are also available to continue learning and healing as a group while aiding the development of pertinent supportive skills. Call to speak to us today at (844) 857-5992.

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