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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 bad behavior toward you. But it makes the problem worse, overall. Instead, let’s talk about the differences between enabling and genuine help for addicts.

How People Enable Addicts, and How it Hurts

The reason enabling hurts it because it’s a short-term fix for a long-term problem. It staves off negative consequences now, for a longer addiction and greater chances of danger later.

Friends and loved ones can enable an addict in many ways. These are only the most documented ones:

  • Ignoring their negative behavior
  • Giving them money
  • Covering for them
  • Blaming others 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/stop communicating with me/hurt me/hurt themselves.”

You aren’t alone. This CAN happen. 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 issues
  • Give them support to engage in positive activities, such as helping them 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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 support them toward the path of recovery.  

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