Enabling Vs Helping Your Loved One

August 5, 2022

A question many family members and loved ones of those who suffer from substance use disorders have is, "what’s the difference between enabling and helping?" Dr. Ashish Bhatt, MD explains.


Dr. Bhatt: Hi, this is Dr. Bhatt with AddictionCenter.com. I want to take a brief moment to speak a little bit about a question that’s asked of me often, from family members and loved ones and those who suffer with substance use disorder and addiction. What is the difference between enabling and helping somebody? How can you help somebody who’s suffering with a problem, but not enable them? Well first, we have to distinguish what’s the difference.

Enabling, unfortunately, is when a family member or a loved one is actually trying to act in the best interest of the person suffering, but unfortunately ends up reinforcing the behavior in a negative way. This is often done because they feel guilty, they feel that they are somehow responsible, that they’re trying to help them. And dealing with people who are under the influence, it can often be very difficult from an emotional, physical, and psychological standpoint, and often we give in to our family members who are suffering and we provide them with money, we provide them with resources, we often feel that they’re going to promise us that they’re going to stop and that this is going to be the last time by our actions. Unfortunately, when our actions actually help them or assist them to continue to use, that is where the term enabling comes in.

Helping on the other hand, is when we’re able to assist them, same purpose, but at the same time it actually will decrease the use or ultimately will help extinguish the substance use that is going on. This often happens with you having limits and setting things in stone that actually you can abide by so you don’t fall into the trap of negatively reinforcing somebody in continuous usage. This becomes difficult, especially when you’re dealing with somebody who can have psychological and physical and ultimately emotionally stressful periods when you’re dealing with them. This is where addictioncenter.com has multiple resources online which you can go on and look for help, and find treatment centers that will ultimately be able to provide your loved one with a safe place to get proper assistance in coming off their drugs or alcohol.