How Do You Know if You’re Helping or Enabling?

How Do You Know if You’re Helping or Enabling?

No one wants to see a friend or family member suffer. It’s natural to want to help. Unfortunately, helping doesn’t always help. Sometimes helping just allows your loved one to feed her addiction. When someone becomes addicted, the addiction becomes her top priority. She will do whatever is necessary to satisfy it. She may become adept at deception and manipulation. What you think is helping may really be enabling. How do you help without making the problem worse? Here are some guidelines.


Never give money to someone struggling with addiction. She can no doubt give you a heart wrenching and plausible story why she needs money, but you know where the money is really going. The real difficulty is when you suspect she may resort to illegal and unethical means of getting money if you refuse. She is unlikely to just give up if you refuse her money, but at least you aren’t helping to perpetuate her addiction.

Don’t make excuses for someone’s behavior. And especially don’t get drawn into her deceptions. It’s tempting to help cover for someone’s mistakes. You might tell her boss she’s sick or try to rationalize her behavior. Rationalizing addictive behavior is a way of denying there is any problem.

Don’t take over someone else’s responsibilities. If someone’s addiction is seriously affecting her life, you aren’t doing her any favors by picking up the slack. That might mean taking over any number of responsibilities, such as paying the rent and other bills, cleaning her house, or running errands. 


Seek social support. Attend Al-Anon or Nar-Anon meetings. Listen to what people in similar situations have to say and share your experiences. Having the support of others who have been through the same thing can make it easier to do what’s best for your loved one.

Set firm boundaries. Make sure your loved one knows you won’t be giving her money or cleaning up her messes. If you want to let her stay with you, make sure she knows she’s not allowed to bring drugs or other people who are using into the house. Be sure to follow through on your rules. Call the police if necessary. 

Encourage her to get help. You can’t force someone to get sober, but you express your concern. Trying to coerce or control someone is likely to be counterproductive. Be supportive without enabling, and listen. If she is open to getting treatment, offer to help in any way you can.

Consider an intervention. Denial and rationalization are powerful. It’s common for people to refuse to believe their drinking or drug use has become a problem. Sometimes an intervention is a way to get through. Find an experienced intervention counselor and get her closest friends and family members to gather evidence of her addiction. 

Offering a full range of recovery and mental health services, Detox Center of Colorado offers “Expanded Recovery” to enrich our clients’ lives in mind, body, and spirit. Through evidence-based therapy options and the endless adventure of Colorado, Detox Center of Colorado fosters connection, encouraging clients to get connected to themselves, their peers, their families, and their higher power. With the power of recovery, clients are restored to full health and experience life-changing healing. Call us today for more information: 303-536-5463

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