How Do I Support Someone In Recovery Without Enabling?

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When you want to help a loved one with a substance use disorder (SUD), it can be difficult to know what to do. Helping a loved one without enabling their addiction may involve setting and enforcing boundaries to support their recovery.

Supporting Vs. Enabling A Loved One In Recovery

It can be painful to watch a loved one experience the effects of alcohol or drug abuse.

Initially, you may want to reach out and help them in any way you can. But how do you know if you are enabling your loved one or actually helping them?

Addiction And Enabling

Enabling is typically defined as supporting someone’s unhealthy behaviors or actions.

Enabling the behavior of a loved one with substance abuse can spare them from the consequences of their actions but ultimately stall their recovery.

Even though your intention was to help, enabling can also continue to strain the relationship and cause you to feel frustrated.


Enabling can often be found in codependent relationships. Codependency is common in addiction and can happen in any form of relationship.

Codependent relationships are typically defined as an imbalanced relationship, where one person gives too much of themselves, with a desire to “help” or “save” the other person, solidifying their identity around this.

This can enable addiction and cause a partner, friend, or another loved one dealing with addiction to become dependent on the person doing the giving and enabling.

Enabling A Loved One’s Substance Abuse

Enabling might feel like helping, but it can prolong someone’s experience with untreated substance abuse or weaken their addiction recovery efforts.

Here are some examples of enabling a loved one’s addictive behaviors.

Making Excuses

Making excuses can be something that happens in a relationship when a person wants to try to protect the person with the addiction, or even deny that the addiction exists.

For example, the person trying to help may explain away the person’s drinking or substance use due to stress, health issues, or another reason other than substance abuse.

Making excuses may also include lying for a loved one to cover their addiction or behaviors.

Avoiding Conflict

Conflict can be uncomfortable, and it may be tempting to avoid bringing up the topic of addiction or problematic behaviors with a friend or loved one.

However, allowing destructive behaviors to continue without boundaries or acknowledgement can make it more difficult for a loved one to get the support they need, or face what is happening.

Continually Providing Money Or Other Resources

Providing money or other resources to a friend or family member, knowing that they may use the resources to support their substance use, can ultimately prolong the addiction.

For example, you might give your loved one money for rent as a one-time deal, but then they come back to you the next month needing money again.

This can become a cycle that creates a dependence on the addicted family member, preventing them from learning from the consequences of their actions.

Not Setting Boundaries Or Following Through On Consequences

Boundaries are important, and not following through on consequences when a loved one ignores them can signal to this person that you aren’t serious about the boundaries.

Keeping firm boundaries can help lovingly guide someone with what you expect in the relationship, and can also help you avoid burnout if you are a caregiver.

An example of a boundary could be only giving your loved one money if it’s going to treatment programs for their recovery or helping them with housing once they complete treatment as long as they continue with recovery efforts.

A boundary is not telling someone what to do but informing them of what you are willing and able to do to support their health and well-being.

This is the opposite of controlling or overly taking care of a person, which can be found in a codependent or enabling relationship.

Ways To Support A Loved One In Recovery

Your friend or loved one has gotten addiction treatment and is now in recovery. Here are some ways that you can support them without falling into enabling behaviors.

Remember that recovery is a lifelong process, and having friends’ or family members’ support is key when someone is recovering from addiction.

Learning About Addiction

Addiction has long been stigmatized and misunderstood. A good way to combat this is to better understand addiction and recovery yourself.

Knowing that addiction is a mental health condition and not a choice, for example, can help you provide the best support for your loved one.

Setting Boundaries

Continuing to set firm boundaries is important, as it can help lay the groundwork for a healthy relationship moving forward.

This can curtail burnout as well, allowing each individual their autonomy within the relationship to make their own way and learn from their own choices.

Since addiction takes away from autonomy, building self-awareness and autonomy back up again is often vital in the recovery process.


Active listening is a skill, and though it may seem like a simple thing, it can make all the difference.

Sometimes your loved one just wants to be heard, and a non-judgmental presence can be both validating and uplifting.

Participating In Sober Activities Together

Activities that don’t involve substance use can help your loved one not only establish healthy coping skills to lean on when needed, but also build social connections.

It can be difficult for people in recovery, especially in the first months following treatment, to know what to do with their free time and avoid triggers.

Participating in sober activities with them can help, while also being a fun way to celebrate successes and milestones. Activities such as cooking together or doing an exercise class can also promote healthy habits.

Attending Support Groups And Therapy

There are support groups for family members and friends specifically, and support groups that can be attended together with the person in recovery.

Your own well-being and wellness are as important as your loved one’s healthcare needs. Support groups for loved ones of people with addiction can be found through treatment providers or a Google search.

Al-Anon, Alateen, Nar-Anon, Parents of Addicted Loved Ones (PAL), or SMART Recovery Family & Friends can provide needed emotional support.

Therapy is also often important for family members or other loved ones. If family therapy or couples therapy is needed, joining the person in recovery can be helpful for the relationship.

Practicing Self-Care

It’s important not to neglect your own self-care when it comes to providing support to someone dealing with drug addiction or alcohol abuse.

Therapy can be important to recognize inner and outer resources in your own journey while supporting another. It can also help with recognizing any enabling behaviors if they arise.

Self-care also means taking care of yourself on a daily basis, whether it’s through eating a healthy diet, keeping healthy boundaries, exercising regularly, or finding quiet time for yourself.

Recovery is an ongoing process, but being a supportive, empowering force can help a loved one continue toward their goal and live a sober life.

Find Help For Addiction Today

If you or a loved one is seeking assistance for recovery, contact Detox Rehabs today. The path to healing does not need to be taken alone.


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