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Difference Between Enabling and Helping a Recovering Addict

Difference Between Enabling and Helping a Recovering Addict

While you may think you know what’s best for a loved one who’s in addiction recovery, you may actually be worsening the problem.

What many people don’t realize is that there is a big difference between enabling and helping a recovering addict. This is a common problem within relationships and families that include a person who’s recovering from a drug or alcohol problem. Most of the time, loved ones aren’t aware that they’re inadvertently encouraging addiction-related behavior; however, a continuous pattern of enabling an addiction can result in serious repercussions. 

As a drug and alcohol treatment center in Gilman, we understand how difficult it can be to say no to someone you love. But while you may mean well, it’s important to understand that certain behaviors can push the person further into substance abuse. 

What Is the Difference Between Helping and Enabling Someone?

Helping and enabling are two very different things. Helping someone means doing something for a person that they’re unable to do on their own. A person who’s in recovery may be unable to wash their car or mow the lawn if they’re experiencing withdrawal symptoms or other physical ailments related to addiction recovery. 

On the other hand, enabling occurs when you do something for someone that they are able to do on their own. When it comes to addiction recovery, protecting individuals from facing the consequences of their drug or alcohol addiction and related actions is considered enabling behavior, which prevents the recovering addict from working toward sobriety. 

If you’re actively involved in a recovering addict’s life, then you may feel overwhelmed with your role in their recovery. For many people, hitting a point of exhaustion leads them to enabling behavior. Enablers may also fear that the person will relapse if they aren’t treated a certain way. But this is never the answer. Although the addict may seem happy, it’s only because you’re giving them what they want and not what they need. As an enabler, you may lose respect for yourself because you know that what you’re doing isn’t right. If your loved one has undergone drug or alcohol addiction treatment, knowing the difference between enabling and helping a recovering addict can prevent a relapse. 

At Banyan Heartland, we’ve come across all kinds of patients, witnessing the damage that enabling can cause. Although relapse is not always a result of enabling behavior, we understand that it’s a very real danger to those in recovery. Our alumni program provides our past patients with additional support after they’ve completed their substance abuse treatments so the burden doesn’t fall completely on you or your loved ones. 

Are You an Enabler?

Enabling tendencies or behaviors may not always be obvious. A loved one may truly believe that what they are doing and how they are treating a recovering addict is the best thing for them; however, enabling prevents both the addict and their loved one from leading a healthy life. The addict is constantly being prevented from working towards their sobriety while the enabler becomes more controlling. 

If you’re involved with someone who is recovering from a drug or alcohol addiction, you may want to watch out for these signs of enabling: 


When a friend or family member fails to accept the addict’s history of substance abuse, they are in denial. Without acknowledging that there is a problem, the enabler cannot properly support their loved one in recovery when they need it. A person in denial of their loved one’s addiction issues may also introduce addiction cravings into certain situations without realizing it.

Making Excuses for Recovering Addicts

Friends or family members will often make excuses for a recovering addict. Making excuses and defending an addict’s actions only reinforces the idea that they can fall back into unhealthy or deceitful habits without dealing with the repercussions. In programs like the 12-Step Program, there is a focus on accountability in sobriety; recovering addicts should first accept their problematic behavior in order to stay on the path to sobriety and sustain addiction-free lives in the future.  

Desire to Protect the Family’s Reputation

Saving face is often the reason behind feigned ignorance. Family members may feel the need to ignore a person’s history of addiction in order to prevent the news from reaching others. Unfortunately, this may make the individual feel ashamed, or as if public opinion is prioritized above their wellbeing. This can damage relationships and prevent the recovering addict from reaching out for support when they need it. 

Controlling Behavior

Enablers may try to micromanage a recovering addict’s life in an attempt to prevent a relapse, but this controlling behavior might actually drive them back into substance abuse. Though a support system is helpful after rehab, a degree of autonomy is also necessary in addiction recovery in order to successfully transition into a new routine for a healthy, sober life.

Acknowledging enabling behaviors on your part can be tough, but it can prevent you from driving a recovering loved one away or back to substance abuse. 

If you or a loved one is caught in the downward spiral of addiction and needs help, call Banyan Treatment Centers Heartland today at 888-280-4763 for more information about our rehab facility. 

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Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.