Enabling is not helping! The secret to helping an addict

How do you really help an addict? We review some effective tactics here.

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How many of us have asked ourselves: “If I stopped helping my addicted loved one, what would happen to them? Would they fall apart, would they starve or, even worse, overdose?”  

If you question whether your help is really hurting an addict, this article may help you understand more regarding enabling and addiction. We review enabling behaviors and how to end them here. Then, we invite your questions or comments at the end.

Are you helping or enabling?

Have you ever said…

“I don’t understand why he can’t stay sober, I do everything for him, pay the bills, take care of the children, all he has to do is focus on his recovery.”

Q: There is a fine line between helping and enabling. But how do you know that you’re enabling a drug addict or alcoholic? And what are some examples of enabling behaviors?

A: Anything a person does that makes life easier for an addict to use drugs is enabling. For example, taking on extra chores at home or overtime at work for extra money to make up for what the addict is not doing is enabling. Taking care of your children because your spouse is high is not enabling, the welfare of your children come first. However, coming home to an unmade dinner and the house a wreck, cleaning up and making dinner for the addict to eat is enabling.

So, how can you stop enabling an addicted husband, spouse, or partner?

The secret to helping an addict

The secret to helping an addict is NOT HELPING an addict! You might be asking what this means and how can you differentiate between which actions help and which actions do not help. The lines may become blurred, especially when children are involved. However, one thing is very clear: if you find yourself doing anything more than your share for the sole reason that an addict is getting high, you are enabling.

Helping an addict husband, spouse, or loved one is really no secret at all, it just seems that way because no one really takes the most appropriate approach to dealing with an addicted loved one. People seem to do the opposite and try to help the person they love by taking care of them. This natural instinct is acceptable in other circumstances but not when someone is deep into addiction and when that addiction is (and it almost always does) destroying your relationship, home, and family.

Doing nothing

“So I should just sit by and watch my spouse fall apart and do nothing?”

YES. But it is not that simple.

Every morning, I ask my ten year old to make her bed and every morning she does not do it and I go in and do it for her. My husband asked me why she would ever do it herself when she knows I will.

If you apply the same theory to an addict, an addict gets high and they know their spouse or partner will pick up the slack. Even if they endure anger, screaming or the silent treatment, why would they ever get clean? They can get high and have the responsibilities of life taken care of for them. They might apologize, but they do it again because they know they can.

More effective help

No one is saying that if a loved one is struggling with addiction that you should just get up and walk away. When an addict is struggling, it is in their best interest for you to create boundaries with them and abide by them. Taking the SAFETY NET away from the addict allows them to decide their life is unmanageable and make a change or go deeper into addiction, to a place where they will need to decide, at some point, that enough is enough.

You will know when it’s time to help…

When it is time to help an addict, it will become evident. When an addict – on their own and of their own volition – asks for help to get sober, that is the right time to help. The promises of getting clean will not be for next week or next month but right now.

You’ll know it’s time to help again because the addict will want to get help right away because they will no longer be able to go on living as they are. This is a good time to step in and assist them into a recovery program, tell them how you feel about their sobriety, tell them how much you love them while still keeping those boundaries. The best way to help an addict is to let them know you are there to help them as long as they are in recovery.

An addict may relapse but as long as they go back into recovery and chronic relapse does not become the norm, your love and support are still warranted.

About the author
Amanda Andruzzi, MPH, AADP, CHES, is a Certified Health Coach, founder of Symptom-Free Wellness, and the author of Hope Street. Her first book, Hope Street memoir is an inspirational story of one woman's frightening journey of co-addiction that led her to uncover courage, unbelievable strength and overcome great adversity. She resides with her daughter, husband, and two sons in Florida.
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