The Difference Between Enabling and Helping


Enabling is often perceived as helping; in fact, they are two very different actions, thus it is important for family members and friends of addicts to understand the difference between the two.

The Difference

Helping is doing something for anyone, addict or not, whom is unable to do it for themselves. Enabling is doing something for an individual, again addict or not, whom could and should be doing for it their self.

Each and every one of us has helped someone out in life; it may have been a family member, friend, or stranger. Bringing meals to an ill person who is unable to do so is helping. Driving an individual to work or the grocery store until their car is repaired is helping. These helpful actions are providing temporary help for a person until they are able to do it for themselves.

Enabling, although different, often gets confused as helping, by those who have good intentions and indeed think they are helping. It should be noted that most people associate enabling with only addicts; however, it can be attributed to raising a child to become an independent adult or not allowing a friend to live in the spare bedroom without contributing anything. In regards to addicts, enabling is very unhealthy and can only further their addiction. When people enable an addict, they are not allowing them to experience any consequences of their addiction, but additionally, one is preventing the addict from coming to terms with their addiction; therefore, depriving them from wanting or getting help.

The Problem with Enabling

Enabling is not conducive to a healthy lifestyle, not only for the addict, but for the enabler as well. The addict is prevented from experiencing consequences due to their addiction. While the enabler, who may feel like they are simply trying to help, becomes more and more upset as the addict continues their addiction. Additionally, the enabler may become emotionally controlled by the addicts' behaviour which will add, and create possibly more, problems. In the end the relationship is unhealthy for both the addict and the enabler.

Are you an Enabler?

Perhaps you are unsure as to whether or not you are helping an addict or enabling them, thus furthering their addiction. Below are 6 self assessment questions, if yes is the answer to any of them, you have at that time enabled the addict rather than helped him or her.

Have you ever ‘called in sick' for the addict because they were too high or hung over to go to work or school? Have you ever made up excuses for the addict's using/drinking or behavior? Have you blamed yourself for the addict's self destructive ways? Do you avoid talking to the addict about their ways because you fear their response? Do you give the addict money to buy drugs or alcohol? Have you repeatedly said the words, ‘one more chance' or ‘this is your last chance', but never follow through with them?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then hopefully you have become aware that even if you were trying to help, you were in fact enabling the addict. Unfortunately, unless the addict is forced to face the consequences of his or her own actions, they will most likely never realise just how bad the problem is.

Turning Enabling Actions into Helpful Positive Ones

As a family member or friend of an addict, it is important to learn how to redirect the efforts that are presumed to be helpful, but are actually harmful. Addicts must learn to recognise and accept responsibility and consequences of their own actions. By taking responsibility for enabling, positive change will happen and will not only make a positive impact on the addict, but on you as well. It is understandable that most enablers have a warm heart and mean no harm, but realistically, it is not healthy and it is up to you to continue down this path or put a stop to it.