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The Difference Between Empowering and Enabling

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Helping a loved one identify and overcome the use of addictive substances is a noble effort, and making oneself available to support others throughout their recovery should be celebrated. However, there is a fine line between helping a loved one overcome their use of drugs or alcohol and inadvertently enabling the practice. Finding this line is crucial for becoming supportive.

Providing assistance wherever needed throughout recovery is a powerful act of caring; however, it can be more impactful to instead empower those battling their use of drugs or alcohol to overcome these challenges themselves. 

What Does It Mean to Enable?

The term “enabling” encompasses many different definitions. Enabling the use of addictive substances is much more than simply providing drugs or alcohol to an individual. For some, enabling means creating an environment where engaging with addictive substances is accepted. For others, it means romanticizing the use of drugs or alcohol with certain people or in various environments. It can also mean not holding one accountable for mistakes made while under the influence of these substances. 

Others may enable the use of addictive substances by too readily forgiving an individual, even if one does raise concerns regarding their use of drugs or alcohol. Having another person apologize for their behavior or use of addictive substances is crucial, but only if it comes packaged with genuine change. Accepting apologies only for an individual to repeat the behavior without additional consequence can enable those struggling with an alcohol or drug addiction to continue doing so without consequence. Additionally, one may not be able to recognize the true drastic impact that these substances have.  

Helping an individual cover financial costs can also be a form of enabling. It is common for those struggling with addiction to find their own personal finances compromised in order to engage with these destructive substances. Directly covering costs, even for essentials such as rent, food, gas, or other necessities, can be detrimental to a loved one’s recovery. Volunteering to cover these costs allows those struggling with addiction to continue freeing financial space in their budget for street or prescription drugs, alcohol, gambling, or other forms of addiction. This makes it more difficult to recognize the consequences of their substance use. 

Any action that seeks to solve a problem for another rather than help a loved one overcome a problem for themselves is a form of enabling. Even actions made in good faith and support can have enabling consequences. However, it is always possible to take one’s dedication to another and adjust the practices to address a loved one’s needs without enabling further use or increasing the risk of relapse.

Embracing Empowerment

Enabling and empowering may seem similar on the surface. However, the main difference between the two comes from whether an individual is helping another solve a problem,or providing an opportunity for a loved one to solve it themselves. For those struggling with addiction, the ramifications of their use of drugs or alcohol affect every aspect of their lives, from finances to professional performance or employment, personal relationships, and hobbies. When done correctly, empowering a loved one to overcome the effects of addiction is an incredible and transformative experience. 

For example, addressing the finances of addiction is always tricky. Instead of directly covering costs, providing money, or purchasing groceries, sitting down with an individual to discuss their finances and create an effective budget can be a more impactful way to accomplish the same goal. One may also come with an individual to these errands to be sure that one is adhering to their budget. Not only can working together ensure a loved one stays by the determined budget, but it also shows how a loved one can address their own needs while situating oneself as an active, dedicated, and essential support for their developing sober life.  

Likewise, empowering another’s change also comes with some difficult situations. Empowerment comes with accountability, and holding loved ones accountable, enforcing consequences, and adhering to ramifications if agreements are not fulfilled are paramount. Rather than verbal apologies, true apologies come with genuine change, and enforcing consequences is sometimes the best way to support an individual and facilitate sustained and effective change. 

Becoming a Transformative Support

Supporting a loved one throughout their recovery journey is challenging, and dedicating oneself so intimately to another’s well-being is incredibly powerful. However, the role of the support is not to always be able to take care of the hurdles that are in another’s way. Rather, the best supports are present to remind an individual of their commitments and goals and be a voice of direction and change throughout the recovery process. Nobody can truly go through the recovery process for another person, but it is always possible to empower another to see their own goals through. 

Embracing the difference between empowering and enabling is a core part of becoming an effective support. We at Pacific Sands Recovery Center embrace the same mentality in all of our therapeutic practices. We believe in helping you or your loved one identify and overcome the effects of addiction in your own life by providing resources, education, community, and opportunities for you to embrace your own change. Our comprehensive approach to recovery is based on personal empowerment and growth, helping you define your own path forward. From effective detox programs and a comprehensive approach to your needs, we are prepared to customize your recovery path to help you through your own powerful, transformative recovery journey. For more information on how we can help you begin your journey to detox and sobriety, or to speak to a caring staff member about your needs, call us today at (714) 492-1119.

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