Many people have trouble differentiating between helping and enabling behavior. Specifically, people think they are helping when they are actually enabling. It may seem like a vague line to cross, but the difference between helping and enabling an addict or alcoholic is huge.
When Helping turns into Enabling
Helping is generally a positive action, and is encouraged. Helping an addict or alcoholic includes doing things that will truly benefit them, while keeping in mind that we are only responsible over ourselves. We may sometimes help an addict get out of a sticky situation, but addicts must feel the consequences of their own actions, and depriving them of this is actually hurting. What starts as helping can easily turn into enabling over time.
Enabling takes place when you are in some way allowing the addict, alcoholic, or afflicted individual to continue their destructive behavior. Enabling is often perceived as helping. The essence of enabling is permitting the addict to continue with their addiction, often by supplying money, shelter, legal aid, or any other form of help.
The enabler generally has a hard time seeing what they are doing. When a family member or close friend is abusing drugs or alcohol, it is our instinct to do what we can to help. Enabling is done with good intention, but is not truly healthy. When we enable, we do things for the addict that they can and should do for themselves.
The Problem with Enabling
Enabling is not conducive to a healthy lifestyle. For the addict, they are unable to experience the consequences of their actions, and may be kept from seeing they have a problem. When addicts and alcoholics see how bad their lives have gotten, they may see they have a problem. Enabling is also bad for the enabler. When enabling, an individual usually thinks they are helping, and becomes distraught when the addict continues their behavior. The enabler may suffer from codependency, and be emotionally controlled by the addicts behavior.
Enabling and helping are two very different things, and should not be confused. If you are "helping" a loved one out of their predicaments, or doing things that they can and should be doing for themselves, you are probably enabling them. As enablers usually act with a warm heart, you should remember that enabling is realistically hurting your loved one.