How Can I Help an Addict Without Enabling Them? 

When we see somebody we love struggling with addiction and substance abuse, we want to do our best to help them, though we may not know how to do that. Often people with good intentions end up enabling someone’s drug abuse instead. If someone uses substances to cope with stress or anxiety, you may look at the short-term relief the substance offers and think that maybe their substance use is helpful to them. Or perhaps you see the effects of withdrawal on your loved one and know if you help them get more drugs or alcohol, you can take that pain away. Maybe you just trust them when they insist to you that they’re able to control their substance use, even when you suspect that may not be the case. These are all examples of enabling behaviors, well-intentioned actions driven by a desire to help and trust your loved one, that end up fueling their substance abuse instead. Eventually, these enabling behaviors can morph into a codependent relationship. Nobody wants to see their loved ones hurt, and they certainly don’t want to believe that they’re responsible for hurting them, and as you continue to cover for them, the addict begins to just expect that you will help them, and you continue to oblige. We all want what’s best for those we care about, but when dealing with a complicated illness like addiction, it’s important to understand how we can aid them in productive ways. Here are five ways to help an addict without enabling them. 


Learn About Addiction

Addiction is a complex disease, and there are many cultural stereotypes and attitudes attached to it that are not necessarily helpful, or even outright harmful. If you have a loved one struggling with addiction/substance abuse, it’s important to understand how the illness works in order to best equip yourself to help them. Luckily, there is a wealth of information out there, including  our blog. A good place to get started is the government agency Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which has web pages dedicated to providing families struggling with substance abuse with resources. Your state’s health department website should also have resources specific to your region. If you have a primary care doctor, their office would also be able to provide you with information and resources if you asked. 


Be Substance Free Around Them

It’s important to provide people struggling with addiction with a safe and supportive environment. By keeping substances out of your home if you live with them, or keeping substances locked up and out of sight when they’re visiting you, you can help remove any temptation to use and prevent triggering cravings as they’re in recovery. If they are going out to a party or a gathering where there will be alcohol and perhaps other substances, going out and staying sober with them can help build a sense of solidarity that helps the addict feel stronger.


Keep Communication Open

Some people have the idea that what an addict really needs is some tough love to get better, and that means kicking them out if they live with you, and cutting them off. While it is certainly important to set firm and clear boundaries, and stick to them, turning someone struggling with substance abuse away can pull them further into the depths. A robust support system is a vital component of recovery, and it’s important to make sure the person struggling with addiction knows that they can trust you, especially if they’re dealing with cravings, or have relapsed. That level of trust requires both firm boundaries and maintaining a gentle and non-judgmental environment, a difficult balancing act to be sure. That means being honest with them about your feelings, telling them if you’re angry or disappointed with them for example, but also making sure they know that you still love them and will continue to help support them and move towards recovery. 


Encourage Entering A Rehab Program/Support Group

Seeking treatment is not easy for those with addictions. They usually have to overcome denial around their substance abuse and form a desire to recover in the first place. People who are forced into rehab have far worse outcomes and much higher relapse rates than those who choose to recover on their own. This means gently guiding them to see that their addiction is a problem that is harming not only their well-being but also the lives of those closest to them, is a crucial step towards getting an addict to enter rehab. Rehab facilities like Sunshine Behavioral Health can help provide you with resources to plan an intervention. Support groups like 12-step programs and SMART recovery also offer resources for families, and sometimes have meetings where family members are invited to join and learn more about addiction and their loved ones’ experiences with it. It will likely take time and persistence, but you can help provide your loved one with the strength and desire to recover. 


Enter Family Therapy With Them 

Addiction does not just harm the person struggling with it, it ends up affecting everybody close to them too. Family therapy provides a safe and neutral environment for everybody to be open with their thoughts and feelings, and help begin to mend the hurt on all sides. Just the act of entering family therapy with them can help the addict feel less alone and know that their family is on their side. It can also be a good opportunity for you to learn more about addiction, and specifically how your loved one experiences it. This knowledge can help you better support your loved one as they work to recover. 


Addiction takes a toll on everyone, and it is scary to not know how to best help those we care about, to worry about trying to help them, and perhaps making the problem even worse. Luckily there are resources out there, and rehab centers like Sunshine Behavioral Health are always ready to lend you a hand. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction and looking for help, click here and get started today. 



Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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