The Difference Between Support and Enablement

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When you see someone you care about struggling, you may have an urge to help them by any means as it is human nature. Someone who struggles with mental health and substance abuse disorders needs a strong support system to walk through every step of the recovery process. You may be finding it difficult to tell the difference between supporting your loved one and enabling them. A sign of enablement would be allowing your loved one who is struggling to continue with unhealthy behaviors. It does not help your loved one in the long run and often leads to added stress on your life and can hinder your loved one’s path to recovery even more. To maintain a healthy, supportive relationship, it’s crucial to learn the differences between support and enablement. 

How to Tell the Difference

You may feel that any help is good help, but this is not always the case. Here are five ways to identify enablement:


  • Making Excuses For Their Behavior – Making excuses for your loved one’s negative behaviors due to their substance abuse negates the reality of their situation. Avoiding the truths of their abuse is not helpful in their recovery. Admitting that substance abuse is a problem is the first step in recovery, so making excuses for your loved one’s behavior relinquishes them of having to admit that they want help. 
  • You Put Your Needs After Theirs – If you are helping someone deal with substance abuse, it’s best to set boundaries on the relationship. To support someone else, you need to be able to keep your own mental health intact. If you put someone’s needs before your own, it causes stress and can lead to a decrease in your quality of life.
  • Your Relationship Exhibits Codependent Behavior – Codependency is common in the relationship of people with substance abuse issues. The problem with codependency and enablement is with the role of the identified enabler. You may feel a sense of pride in being a caretaker or in a support role in your loved one’s life, but it’s important to realize that as a supporter, your part is not to enable their behaviors. 
  • You Lie For Them – Lying for your loved one is similar to making excuses for them. It’s not helpful for anyone, especially for a person with a substance abuse disorder. It’s important for you to set a boundary for honesty and be clear that you are not willing to lie for them. 
  • You Take Over Their Responsibilities – It’s not healthy for your loved one to have their responsibilities taken over by you. Part of recovery is learning to manage and accept responsibilities. Constantly bailing your loved one out of challenging situations enables their behavior because they rely on the fact that you will bail them out again.


It may be hard to spot the difference between supporting and enabling your loved one, but it’s important for their long-term recovery for you to frame your role as a support system rather than an enablement role. While some actions you take to help them may be useful immediately, in the long run, it is not going to help your loved one accept responsibility and may even empower them to continue negative habits and behaviors. Remember, support is about empowering someone towards positive change. When you enable someone, you help them stagnate and repeat the destructive behaviors that aren’t improving their lives. If your loved one always has someone to catch them when they are about to fall, there is no motivation to change.

It’s very important to make sure your relationship with your loved one hasn’t shifted to codependency. Codependent relationships can possibly function in a healthy manner but more often than not, are dysfunctional. 

Warning Signs of Codependent in a Relationship:

  1. Your sense of purpose surrounds caring for another individual.
  2. You have a difficult time saying no, even if the act is detrimental to you or them.
  3. You feel trapped in the relationship.
  4. You augment your behaviors or emotional responses to avoid arguments from the other person.
  5. You find yourself always seeking reassurance from the other person.

If you feel that you are in a codependent relationship with someone who has a substance abuse issue, there are resources for you to get help. Many treatment centers offer couples and family counseling to help loved ones of those struggling with substance abuse or mental health issues. Codependency is not exclusive to couples; it can affect caregivers, parents, or children of those suffering from addiction or mental health issues.

Mental health and substance abuse recovery can be a tedious process. And while the process is complicated, it is viable with the proper support. It is crucial to make sure your support is helping and not exacerbating a low quality of life for you and your loved one. Ask yourself if what you are doing is helping them or not. Remember, keep a big picture perspective to help yourself realize if your actions are enabling long-term poor behavior. Your healthy support can make a world of difference in the life of someone suffering from mental health or substance use disorders.


If your loved one is struggling with substance abuse or mental health issues, it is natural to want to help them. However, it’s important to remember that help can cross the line to enablement if you are not careful. If your actions make it easier for someone to stay in their addiction or illness, that is enablement. If you lose your sense of self or purpose as you “help” your loved one, you may be edging toward a codependent relationship with them. Substance abuse is an issue that can affect many people, not just the abuser. The same is true for mental health disorders. If you feel that you may be in a codependent relationship with a substance abuser or that your actions enable their behaviors, it’s crucial to seek help. Avalon Malibu provides counseling services for families and couples seeking help to support their loved ones. We are dedicated to providing services that will help our patients lead better lives, and maintaining a healthy support system is part of that service. Please call (844) 857-5992 today if you or a loved one needs help.

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