The Difference Between Enabling and Being Supportive

“Am I being supportive for my loved one or am I enabling them?”

This is a common problem faced by many people who have a loved one who is struggling with an addiction of any kind.

The problem is that there isn’t an easy answer to this question.  Well, there is an easy answer that many people give, but it is woefully inadequate.

The First Answer

The typical answer you get is that providing someone with real support is done because you care.  However, if you are enabling the addict, you are probably providing support or taking some kind of action out of fear, guilt or feelings that you are somehow responsible for their behavior.

That sounds like a great answer until you look into it a little further.  The problem is that if you are the person who is living through the situation, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to accurately identify your motives.

Almost everyone who falls into the “enabler” category believes their motives are 100% because they care.


A good way to take the “enabling vs being supportive” issue to another level is to look at the results of your actions.

Caring for someone produces feelings of compassion and concern.  In this situation, you want to offer your support to the person who is struggling.  This turns the corner to become enabling when you begin to try to protect the addict from the consequences of their own behavior.

Most counseling professionals believe the most effective method of getting an addict to believe that they must change is by allowing them to experience the consequences of their own behavior.

Many addicts talk about how hitting “rock bottom” is what finally made them understand the depth of their problem and that they needed to change their life.

When you enable an addict, you prevent them from hitting the bottom.  You are preventing the very thing that is most likely to make them want to turn their life around and get help.

When an enabler gets involved to mitigate the consequences and solve problems, the addict will also continue to expect that help, even as their addiction deepens.  When the enabler is unable to eventually “fix” everything, the addict becomes resentful and blames the enabler for their problems instead of recognizing and owning the problems themselves.

The Slippery Slope

Another reason it is so difficult to distinguish between being supportive and enabling that both types of behavior start genuine concern.  As the addiction of your loved one continues, you become more desperate to help.  It is very, very difficult for you to identify when you turn into an enabler.

It is essential for you to find a neutral 3rd party who can provide you with the support you need to focus on supporting your loved one, not enabling them.  Groups like Al-Anon can be a great place to start.

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