When a loved one has an addiction, e.g., a spouse, child or another family member, your instinct is to support and help them. However, some of your instinctive behaviors may cause more harm than good. 

You need to understand the difference between supporting your loved one and enabling him or her. Enabling means shielding your loved one from the consequences of his or her actions, and it actually causes more harm than good. When you understand the difference, it is easier to support your loved one without enabling. 

Enabling behaviors

Enabling involves either acting in such a way that prevents your loved one from facing the consequences for harmful or destructive behaviors or behaving passively so that it seems like you give tacit approval. Examples of enabling behavior include lying or making excuses for someone so that he or she does not get in trouble with authority figures like teachers, employers or even law enforcement. You do this despite the fact that you know, or at least believe, the other person’s behavior is unhealthy. 

Supportive behaviors

Many people think that not enabling a loved one with an addiction means “tough love.” Allowing someone you love to face the consequences of his or her actions, even when they are negative, can seem tough, both to you and to the other person. 

However, it is possible to show compassion for your loved one without condoning unwanted and unhealthy behavior. You cannot change the things your loved one says and does, but you can change your own behavior to help your loved one feel safe about opening up about the pain he or she is feeling. Instead of discouraging unhealthy behavior, you encourage healthy behavior. When your loved one feels safe and seen, he or she may be more receptive to the idea of getting help for his or her addiction.