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Enabling vs. Helping: How to Help a Drug Addict Successfully

Enabling vs. Helping a Drug Addict

Most of us will want to help a friend or loved one suffering from addiction. If they need something, we’ll want to get it for them.

But what if they ask you to buy them more drugs? Do we get them what they ‘want’?

If you do, this is what we call enabling. Bringing an addict drugs or alcohol may give the illusion of help, as it may keep the addict “happy” and decrease their bad behavior (especially if it’s toward you!). But it makes the problem worse, overall.

Instead, let’s talk about the differences between enabling and genuine help for addicts.

Can You Enable an Addict Without Realizing? Yes—And Here’s How to Tell

The reason enabling hurts everyone (not just the person with the addiction), is because it’s a short-term fix for a long-term problem. It staves off negative consequences for right now, in exchange for a longer addiction and bigger problems later.

Friends and loved ones can enable an addict in many ways – most without even realizing it. These are only the most documented ones:

  • Ignoring their negative behavior
  • Giving them money
  • Covering for them
  • Blaming others (including yourself) for the addict’s drug use
  • Doing their chores or taking care of their commitments for them

Now, if you’re thinking, “If I don’t give them a drink or drugs, they’ll get mad. They’ll stop communicating with me. Maybe hurt themselves. Maybe they’d hurt me!”

You aren’t alone. This CAN happen, unfortunately…and it gets worse as long as you enable. That’s why it’s important to get professional help when addressing serious substance use.

Enabling or Helping...what's better for the addict?
Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash

How to Really Help an Addict

If you want to give an addict genuine help, these are some of the most effective ways to do it.

  • Talk to a therapist, interventionist, or substance abuse counselor about ways to address the root cause (the addiction).
  • Give them support to engage in positive activities, such as helping them attend or arrange drug-free social events.
  • If the addict refuses to take part in a planned activity, go to it without them. This shows them life still happens outside addiction, and that you’re not under their control.
  • Do not lend them money, or let them use your car.
  • Don’t bring them drugs or alcohol. If you’ve done so in the past, speak to a professional about the best way to cease this without causing harm.
  • It’s OK to bring them food if they need it. But if they start pressuring you to get them alcohol or drugs right afterward, stop bringing them food.
  • Call 911 if the addict appears to be an immediate danger to themselves or others. For example, if you know they’re driving under the influence.

It’s important for you to know – the addict will argue with you on this. They may use guilt, or your relationship, or even threats to make you enable them again. Prepare for an argument, but if they resort to threats, leave immediately. Even if you’re in your home, leave the building and call the police.

Switch from Enabling to Helping, to Increase Chances of Successful Addiction Recovery

If you’ve enabled an addict in the past, don’t blame yourself! Addiction strains all relationships. It’s not a bad thing to want to help someone you care about.

However, enabling makes a bad situation worse. If you can switch from enabling to genuinely helpful responses, you may end up introducing them to the path of recovery.

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