How Do I Tell the Difference Between Support and Enabling?


When a loved one – be it a significant other, a family member, or even just a friend – is in trouble, the natural reaction is to lend a helping hand and provide some form of assistance. At the very least, the desire to help generally persists even when given no opportunity to tangibly provide aid to those in need. Our society preaches from a young age the importance of taking an empathetic approach to life, a trait that is arguably the most essential building block in the foundation of humanity. Human interaction thrives on the ability to imagine ourselves in someone else’s place and react accordingly with kindness and understanding. 

Addiction recovery patients understand this need for empathy all too well as they receive a master class in humility and empathetic response from their experiences of success and failure on their path to sobriety. However, the approach to providing support for an individual suffering from an addictive disorder can be much more complicated than simply following your natural empathetic response to help.

I Am Being Supportive, Right?

The behaviors of individuals with addictive disorders eventually when left untreated are consumed by substance abuse. This puts partners, spouses, family members, and friends in a difficult position when it comes to providing help to their sick loved ones. Individuals consumed by addiction are in obvious need of help, but that help can run the risk of perpetuating their unhealthy behaviors and habits. For example, providing monetary support to help pay the rent or utility bills for an individual with an addictive disorder may seem like an effective way to help without contributing to substance abuse. However, that monetary support can also be viewed as enabling substance abuse by allowing those with an addictive disorder to further avoid the consequences of their actions, especially when substance abuse is the root cause of their lack of sufficient funds. 

Even when providing indirect support for bills, loved ones run the risk of helping individuals with addictive disorders sink further into substance abuse. The risk of further enabling substance abuse only ends up adding even more unwanted complications and frustrations to what should otherwise be a natural empathetic approach to helping a loved one with an addictive disorder. Below we will further discuss the differences between support and enabling by first defining what addiction support groups mean when they use the term enabling. 

What is Enabling?

Enabling in terms of addiction recovery is any action, albeit direct or indirect, that perpetuates the cycle of substance abuse and addictive behavior by allowing those individuals suffering from addictive disorders to continue to avoid the consequences of their actions. Enabling actions are most often framed in terms of monetary support, but they can also be behavioral as well. For example, actively or passively ignoring a loved one’s blatant substance abuse is just as categorically a form of enabling as paying all their bills. 

We are not suggesting that you can never give money to help out a sick loved one, and it is certainly never your job to call out a loved one’s addictive disorder. Rather, we are simply advocating an increased awareness while you take on the various caretaking roles of giving support to an individual with an addictive disorder. Perhaps the biggest problem when it comes to enabling, aside from committing the manslaughter version of contributing to substance abuse, is that individuals with addictive disorders will never seek treatment if their habits are being perpetuated by your helping hand.

There is no definitive guide to prevent yourself from enabling a loved one in their substance abuse, and chances are some of your “help” will end up enabling their addiction. However, there are ways to ensure you are always supportive which we will discuss further below. 

How To Provide Support Without Enabling

There is a hard line on not willingly enabling an individual’s substance abuse and addictive disorder, but accidentally enabling addiction is bound to happen. Increased awareness as well as an open dialogue about what and how you will support a loved one while they are still actively using can drastically decrease the risk of enabling; in these types of scenarios, you can take some solace in knowing that help, even if accidentally enabling, is still much needed and will provide some form of assistance in that individuals fight with addiction. 

Although enabling may seem inevitable when dealing with substance abuse, there is one surefire method to ensure you only provide support. By being there for them, not giving up, and simply listening, you manage to avoid all the pitfalls of potentially enabling those with addictive disorders while still managing to lend an emotionally charged, helping hand. 


If you have a loved one with an addictive disorder and substance abuse issues, then Choice House has the programs of treatment to stop the cycle of enabling by providing the necessary support to promote long term sobriety. Through a variety of therapeutic modalities, we offer men the chance to create a new foundation of love and empathy as they forge lasting friendships on their well-earned path to sobriety. Our addiction recovery treatment programs consist of 90-day inpatient service, an intensive outpatient program, and the opportunity to take up residency at our sober living campus. Choice House facilities are ideally situated with the Rocky Mountain National Park practically in our backyard and the busy city of Louisville just a short drive away. The proximity to the Rocky Mountains allows us to offer a unique outdoor wilderness therapy where men get the chance to reconnect with nature, fellow addiction recovery patients, and themselves through physical activities like hiking, rock climbing, and kayaking. For more information about Choice House facilities and addiction recovery treatment programs, then give us a call at (720) 577-4422.

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