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Enabling vs Supporting: What is the Difference?

By Linda Whiteside

Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson

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Enabling vs Supporting
A good support system is essential in recovery, especially at the beginning. When struggling with addiction, love and support are important factors in remaining sober, however, there is a fine line when we talk about enabling versus supporting. Both supportive behavior and enabling behavior come from a place of love. This causes the line between supporting and enabling to become blurred making it difficult to tell the difference between the two. This blog will help differentiate enabling and supporting so you can provide the care and assistance your loved one needs in their recovery.

Enabling vs Supporting

What is the difference between supporting and enabling? Generally, supporting includes assisting the addict with things they cannot do themselves and helping them gain control over their life. In contrast, enabling allows someone to keep engaging in unhealthy behaviors and shelters the addict from the consequences of their actions. Enabling behaviors gives the addict the impression that the way they are acting is acceptable.

Enabling

Enabling is often characterized by passivity towards an addict’s damaging behavior. Moreover, enabling is also when you prevent the addict from experiencing the negative consequences of their actions. By being passive towards an addict’s negative behavior and protecting them from experiencing consequences, you are allowing them to continue engaging in their addiction. Enabling prevents the individual from experiencing the damaging effects their addiction has on themself and others. It is important to recognize that no one enables someone on purpose. Oftentimes, an enabler engages in enabling behavior because they love the person so much and don’t know how to support them properly. Here are some examples of enabling to help you more clearly differentiate supportive behavior and enabling behavior:
  • Ignoring the behavior: enablers often disregard or act ignorant to the addiction due to protection, pride, or fear of the truth.
  • Resenting the addict: enablers often begin resenting the addict for not getting better even though they are enabling the addiction.
  • Blaming others for the addict’s behavior: in an effort to avoid conflict or damaging their relationship with the addict, enablers often blame others for the addict’s destructive behavior.
  • Lying to cover up the addict’s behavior: enablers often lie to try to maintain some kind of control over the situation and to protect the addict from experiencing any conflict.
  • Prioritizing the addict’s needs: enablers may compromise their own peace and safety to ensure the addict’s needs are met. This may mean allowing the addict to live in their house, giving the addict money, and more.

Support

In contrast to enabling, supporting someone is simply helping them do something they cannot do themselves. Healthy support varies from person to person, however, support always must be judgment free and must not be at the expense of one’s safety. Here are some ways you can support an addict:
  • Educate yourself: it is very difficult to provide sufficient support if you are not educated on the topic. By learning more about addiction, you can better empathize with what your loved one is experiencing. Most importantly, the more you know, the better you can support your loved one.
  • Suggest treatment: when supporting an addict, you must make them aware of their behavior. Oftentimes, addicts do not realize how destructive their behavior is to the ones around them until it is pointed out. When informing the addict of this, it is important to emphasize that they are not alone if they choose to pursue recovery. Offer the addict some treatment options so they do not feel like they have no agency.
  • Maintain open communication: to better prevent relapse in recovery, it is important to have an open line of communication between yourself and your loved one. It is essential that the addict feels comfortable in expressing the challenges of living sober, especially at the beginning of recovery. The first few months of recovery are the hardest, and if the addict feels like they are experiencing these challenges alone, it can often increase the risk of relapse.
  • Supporting the addict through their recovery: the beginning of recovery can be daunting and nerve-wracking. Offering to attend group meetings, therapy, or AA meetings with the addict can help them gradually become more comfortable in their recovery. Before doing this, however, make sure the meeting allows friends or family to attend.

Learning How to Support an Addicted Loved One at NuView Treatment Center

If you are struggling to effectively support your addicted loved one, NuView Treatment Center may be able to help. NuView Treatment Center, located in West Los Angeles, offers your loved one individualized treatment that helps them address the motivating factors of their addiction. Through their recovery at NuView, you can learn how to better support them and further understand their experiences. The compassion evidence-based therapeutic methods used at NuView Treatment Center will help both you and your loved one understand their addiction better and how to cope with it long-term.

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Author

Written By: Linda Whiteside
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Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who has been providing mental health services for over 10 years.

Medically reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson
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Went to medical school at The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

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