Enabling Versus Helping an Addicted Loved One

February 16, 2015 Kira Lesley

How should you deal with a loved one who is actively addicted? For friends and family of addicts and alcoholics, this heartbreaking question constantly presents itself. Guidelines are helpful, but many instances will need to be addressed on a case by case basis.

Conflicting advice about enabling versus helping an addicted loved one is everywhere. On the one hand, many people in the counseling and treatment professions recommend setting boundaries. The term "detach with love," which originated in the support group Al-Anon, has seeped into common language.

But when it's your son, daughter, mother or father in trouble, saying "no" and maintaining boundaries can be tremendously difficult. Although some in the recovery community have moved away from using the term enabling, the general idea remains. It describes a way of life in which a friend or family member performs actions that help the addict continue using. Often, it's difficult to tell what is genuinely helping the addict and what is enabling him. For example, when one spouse makes excuses for the other or lies so the alcoholic won't get in trouble at work, that's a two-sided coin. The spouse's lies help shield the alcoholic from the consequences of his or her drinking, but on the other hand, perhaps the family truly needs that job to stay afloat.

In my experience, very few aspects of recovery are cut and dried. Certain guidelines make sense. For example, never give an addict cash and never put yourself or your children in harm's way. But many situations won't be this simple. Seek the advice of people you trust, pray or meditate, and let your conscience or your Higher Power guide you.

APA Reference
Lesley, K. (2015, February 16). Enabling Versus Helping an Addicted Loved One, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 17 from

Author: Kira Lesley

Kathy Stavrakis
February, 17 2015 at 10:47 pm

I think you give a good and sensitive overview of this topic. The important thing to remember is that there is no one right way to handle a loved one in the throes of addiction, as you point out.Try to follow your own instinct, even if it goes against what others are telling you. Also, however, listen to other peoples' stories and know you are not alone.. And remember that if your choice doesn't work out as you hoped, you did your best in an incredibly difficult situation.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kira Lesley
March, 1 2015 at 6:31 pm

Thank you very much Kathy. I think you are right. A large part of my recovery experience has been learning to accept my mistakes and to deal with them appropriately. I know it can be difficult in the case of loved one's when we feel like their lives could be in our hands. But the truth is there is no way for us to know with one hundred percent certainty what the outcome of a particular action on our part will be. I remember I once told a woman in recovery I knew that I always worried if I gave money to people who appeared to be drug addicted that they would use it for drugs. She said she that if that happened, maybe it was helping them hit their bottom faster. I'm not saying one approach is better than the other, but her comment did make me rethink the amount of power I had over any given situation.

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