Watching a loved one struggle with drug addiction or alcoholism can be painful and frustrating.
Addiction, clinically termed substance use disorder, is a chronic and progressive brain condition that gets worse if untreated. Although incurable, substance use disorder typically responds favorably to evidence-based treatment.
Today’s guide outlines how to help an addict without enabling addiction. What is enabling in addiction, then?
How to Stop Enabling an Addict
Data from SAMHSA shows that 46.3 million U.S. adults met the DSM criteria for addiction to alcohol or drugs in 2021.
If your internet search history is filled with entries like “how to help an addict in denial” and “how to help an addict who doesn’t want help”, it is vital to try to connect your loved one with the help they need without enabling their addiction.
Enabling in the context of addiction refers to an individual supporting or permitting addictive behaviors in a loved one, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Enabling a drug addict or alcoholic involves eliminating or reducing the consequences of their destructive behaviors.
Enabling an addict can take many forms. Common examples include:
- Lending your loved one money.
- Paying their bills.
- Making excuses for their behavior to others.
- Calling their employer to make excuses for their absence.
- Tolerating substance abuse in the home.
To stop enabling an addict, you must first recognize when you are enabling them. This can be challenging, as enabling often occurs unconsciously. Take some time to reflect on your actions and establish whether you are doing anything that makes it easier for your loved one to continue abusing substances.
Once you have identified any enabling behaviors, you should take steps to stop them. This might mean declining your loved one’s requests for money, refusing to lie for them, or insisting that they face the natural consequences of their actions. This can be remarkably difficult, especially if you have been enabling your loved one for a long time. That said, it is a key step in helping them to initiate their recovery from addiction.
Understand That You Can’t Force Them
If you have been wondering how to help an addict who won’t help themselves, it is worth keeping in mind that you cannot force someone who is addicted to drink or drugs to engage with treatment or to change their behaviors. Ultimately, the decision to seek help and get sober must come from within the person grappling with addiction. No matter how much you want to help, do not squander your energy trying to force an addict to change.
Although this can be frustrating and painful to accept, it is the reality of substance use disorder, a chronic condition characterized by the compulsive use of addictive substances regardless of adverse outcomes. Begging, pleading, or threatening will not make an addict get sober if they are not ready to take this step. Instead, your role should be to support them and encourage your loved one to seek help when they are ready.
Trying to force an addict to get sober can actually be counterproductive, leading to resentment and further alienation. Instead, focus on creating a supportive and encouraging an environment, and let your loved one know that you are there for them when they are ready to seek help.
How To Bring It Up
Bringing up the topic of addiction with your loved one can be a delicate and challenging conversation. Approach the topic with empathy and understanding, and avoid being confrontational or judgmental.
Before starting the dialogue, make sure you are in a safe and private environment where both you and your loved one can feel comfortable. Begin by expressing your concern for their well-being and letting them know that you are there to support them throughout their ongoing recovery. Use “I” statements to convey how their behavior is affecting you – “I’m worried about your health” or “I’m concerned about how this is affecting our family“, for instance.
Be prepared for a variety of reactions, including:
Remember to remain calm and non-judgmental whatever the reaction. Listen to your loved one offer their perspective without interrupting or trying to argue with them. Try to keep the conversation focused on your concern for their well-being and how you can support them in their journey towards recovery.
It’s also important to have resources available for them, such as information on addiction treatment options or a shortlist of suitable local rehab centers. Let your loved one know that there is help available and that they do not need to make the recovery journey alone.
Above all, remember to approach the conversation with empathy and understanding, and to let your loved one know that you are there to support them every step of the way.
Learning how to not enable an addict may make the difference between the chaos of ongoing addiction and the opportunity for your loved one to kickstart their recovery.
Best Ways to Help
What can you do to support someone who has an addiction without enabling the addiction?
- Encourage your loved one to seek professional help: Addiction is a complex disease that typically requires professional treatment. Encourage your loved one to seek help from a reputable rehab center near you.
- Be a good listener: Oftentimes, all someone addicted to drugs or alcohol needs is someone to listen to them without judgment or criticism. Let your loved one know that you are there in this capacity.
- Set and maintain boundaries: Set clear boundaries with your loved one to avoid enabling their behavior. For example, if your loved one asks for money, you can say no but offer to help them find resources for financial assistance instead.
- Don’t cover up for their behavior: Avoid making excuses for your loved one’s behavior to others. Be honest about the situation and let your loved one face the consequences of their actions.
- Show empathy and understanding: Addiction is a difficult and often lonely journey. Show your loved one that you understand how hard it is and that you are there to support them in any way you can.
- Offer positive reinforcement: When your loved one takes steps towards sobriety, offer positive reinforcement and encouragement. Celebrate their progress and let them know how proud you are of them.
- Take care of yourself: Supporting an addict can be emotionally draining and can take a toll on your own mental health. Make sure to take care of yourself and seek support from friends, family, or a therapist if needed.
How to Support an Addict without Enabling
Here are some actionable ways to support your loved one without enabling their addiction.
Support Groups for Families of Addicts
When a loved one is struggling with addiction, their family members and loved ones can also benefit from support and guidance on how to best support their loved one without enabling their behavior.
One option for support is attending peer support groups designed for the families of addicts. These groups provide a safe and supportive environment for family members to share their experiences, learn from others, and receive guidance on how to best support their loved one. Al-Anon and Nar-Anon are the two most common examples. These groups provide a space for family members to share their experiences and learn from others who have been through similar situations.
Support groups can also provide education on addiction and treatment options, as well as resources for finding local rehab centers and addiction specialists.
Attending a support group can also help family members develop healthy coping mechanisms and boundaries, which are essential for avoiding enabling behavior and supporting their loved one in a healthy and sustainable way.
Remember, supporting an addict is a difficult journey, but one that you don’t need to make alone. Support groups for families of addicts can provide a safe and supportive environment for you to share your experiences, receive guidance, and develop healthy coping mechanisms.
When a loved one is struggling with addiction, you should educate yourself on addiction and treatment options. Understanding addiction as a chronic brain condition can help you to approach the situation with empathy and understanding, and can also help you avoid enabling behavior.
There are many resources available for educating yourself on addiction, including books, articles, and online resources. Some reputable resources include:
- NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse)
- SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)
- ASAM (American Society of Addiction Medicine)
Educating yourself on treatment options can also help you guide your loved one towards the best course of action for their recovery. Treatment options include:
- Inpatient rehab
- Outpatient rehab
- Virtual rehab
If your loved one has an addiction to alcohol or opioids, MAT (medication-assisted treatment) may be effective. Find out as much as you can about this to help your loved one to better understand their options. By educating yourself on addiction and treatment options, you can more effectively support your loved one and help guide them towards a sustainable and fulfilling recovery.
One of the most important things you can do to help an addict without enabling them is to avoid enabling behavior. Enabling behavior can include things like providing money or shelter, covering up for their behavior, or making excuses for them.
Enabling behavior can often come from a place of love and concern, but it can ultimately be harmful to the addict and prolong their addiction to drugs or alcohol. Enabling behavior can also be exhausting and emotionally draining for the family member or loved one.
To avoid enabling behavior, it’s important to set clear boundaries and communicate them to your loved one. For example, you can refuse to provide money or shelter, but offer to help them find resources for financial assistance or housing.
It’s also essential to avoid covering up for their behavior or making excuses for them. Instead, be honest about the situation and let your loved one face the consequences of their actions.
Remember, enabling behavior can be harmful to both the addict and the family member or loved one. By avoiding enabling behavior, you can help guide your loved one towards recovery and support them in a healthy and sustainable way.
Know Your Limits
Finally, it’s important to know your limits when it comes to supporting an addict. Supporting a loved one through addiction can be emotionally and mentally exhausting, and it’s important to prioritize your own well-being.
Knowing your limits means recognizing when you need to take a step back and focus on your own needs. This could mean taking a break from communication with your loved one, seeking professional support, or attending support groups for families of addicts.
You should also recognize that you cannot control your loved one’s actions or recovery. While you can provide support and guidance, your loved one must make the decision to seek help and kickstart their recovery.
Taking care of your own well-being is just as important as supporting your loved one through their addiction. Knowing your limits and prioritizing your own needs can ultimately lead to a healthier and more sustainable approach to supporting your loved one.
When They’re Ready, Ohio Recovery Can Help
If your loved one is ready to commit to recovery from addiction to alcohol, prescription medications, or illicit drugs, we can help at Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers.
Choose the type of treatment program that best suits the severity of your loved one’s addiction and their personal circumstances. We offer treatment at the following levels on ASAM’s continuum of care:
- PHP (partial hospitalization program)
- IOP (intensive outpatient program)
All Ohio Recovery Centers treatment programs offer access to medication-assisted treatment, counseling, psychotherapy, and holistic therapies to ensure that your loved one gets a whole-body approach to addiction treatment. Contact the team online right here or call (877) 679-2132 and get immediate assistance for your loved one.