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What Is the Difference Between Support and Enabling?

Supporting someone with an addiction can be complicated. It requires walking a fine line between offering assistance and providing a nurturing environment without inadvertently enabling destructive behaviors. Once you understand what the difference between support and enabling, you will know how to be supportive without unknowingly hampering your loved one’s long-term recovery.

One of the most important components of helping someone you care about overcome addiction is encouraging them to enroll in treatment. Contact The Right Step Hill Country at 1.844.675.1628 to learn more about our addiction treatment programs and how we can help someone in your life reclaim their health and happiness from addiction.

What Is the Difference Between Support and Enabling?

Supporting someone with addiction involves facilitating their journey toward recovery by offering help, encouragement, patience, and understanding. Conversely, enabling a person with addiction inadvertently allows addictive behaviors, hindering their ability to recognize and address their addiction appropriately.

How do you know if you are supporting someone you care about or enabling their addiction? Here are a few key differences:

Offering Empathy vs. Sympathy

Showing empathy to your loved one when they are struggling with addiction helps them feel understood and accepted. It creates a safe space for them to open up about their difficulties. Being empathetic to someone with addiction is a great way to support them.

On the other hand, sympathy may involve excessively protecting the person from facing the consequences of their addiction. You might be shielding them from the reality of addiction, which inhibits their personal growth and ability to recover. While expressing sympathy might seem like showing your loved one you care, it can easily turn into enabling them.

Setting and Enforcing Boundaries vs. Compromising

Setting clear boundaries and following through on them ensures that your own well-being is not compromised. By establishing healthy limits, you convey to your loved one that you care about them and want to see them recover, but you are not willing to tolerate behaviors that are harmful to them or yourself. Showing tough love like this is supportive, although your loved one might think otherwise if they are not ready to commit to recovery.

Compromising your boundaries can reinforce negative patterns by condoning and accommodating destructive behavior. Enabling a person with addiction by not standing strong with your boundaries results in a codependent relationship that prolongs the addiction cycle.

Being Encouraging vs. Excusing Harmful Behaviors

Encouraging someone you care about on their recovery journey entails recognizing their progress, highlighting their strengths, and showing genuine hope for their future. This positive reinforcement supports your loved one’s determination to stay on track.

While you want to try to stay positive to avoid upsetting your loved one or causing them to get defensive, excusing harmful behaviors allows them to continue using substances without facing the real-life consequences. This might look like making excuses for them when they do not show up for work or family gatherings. 

Support vs. Enabling: How to Support Someone in Recovery

It can be tough to know whether you are supporting a loved one or enabling them when it comes to their addiction. To help you gain more clarity, here are some helpful tips for supporting without enabling:

  • Educate yourself about addiction, including its various aspects and potential treatments
  • Encourage your loved one to get professional help from a reputable treatment center
  • Create an environment of trust where your loved one feels safe discussing their experiences and challenges
  • Acknowledge every step toward recovery, celebrate achievements, and encourage continued growth
  • Clearly define boundaries regarding which behaviors you are willing and unwilling to accept

In addition to being supportive of someone in your life with addiction, you should also find ways to support your own health and well-being. The better you feel, the easier it will be to show up for someone you love.

Contact The Right Step Hill Country for Help Supporting a Loved One Through Addiction

If you are trying to figure out what is the difference between support and enabling, you are not alone. It is a delicate balance that many people struggle to navigate effectively. Supporting a loved one with addiction rather than slipping into enabling them can be challenging, but it is worth it in the long run when you see them making progress in their recovery journey. If you need help supporting someone you care about with addiction, call The Right Step Hill Country at 1.844.675.1628 or reach out to us through our contact form.

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