Quiz: When Helping Becomes Hurting in Addiction Recovery

By Waters Edge Recovery 05/31/16

[Sponsored] What role do you play in your loved one’s recovery?

When Helping Becomes Hurting

Solving a problem generally starts with recognizing that it exists.

Addiction destroys families just as it destroys individuals. Heartbroken, angry and exhausted, family members, I’m sorry to say, end up being a block to their loved one’s recovery. Why might this be so?

A recent US National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that in the year before the survey more than 23 million people needed treatment for a substance abuse problem. However, out of these people, only 2.5 million received treatment. Although that points to serious problems in the systems that support addicts, there was another shattering insight to be gleaned: 19.5 million of them reported that they saw no need to seek help. 

As we always say, people seek help with addiction when they reach rock bottom. People hit rock bottom when:

  • Their lies run out 
  • They suffer enough of the consequences of their using to be forced into a need to do something about it.  

Families in pain rarely acknowledge that problems exist; they don’t talk about them or confront them. This is because family members learn to push down their true feelings as they walk around on eggshells. They detach themselves and everybody begins to feel disconnected and guilty. They may cease talking, feeling and thinking about one another. 

Where there are various different people involved, each may be coping very differently from the stress of the situation: 

  • some may be feeling it more; some may be feeling it less. We can all, therefore, feel like we are in very different places;
  • some people respond by withdrawing from the family, while others try to deal with the problems head on;
  • some blame themselves, some blame other family members and everybody can begin to feel very lonely and judgmental about each other’s way of coping;
  • and the family will fracture, when it most needs to be strong.

Enabling behavior starts as a well-intentioned desire to help amid hurt, shame, and confusion. However, in later stages of addiction, friends and family act out of desperation. They begin to feel responsible for their loved one's addiction, terrified that something they may say, do, or—even more commonlyfail to do, may lead to their loved one’s death. The result is that they begin to enable the addict, overcompensating for their loved one’s helplessness.

This will often take the form of giving money to an addict or their debtors, calling in sick for them, lying to cover for them, making and believing endless excuses and forgiving them time and time again. 

Let’s remember what inspires an addict to seek help: their lies run out and the consequences pile up. 

Ironically, often tragically, the family’s attempts to cope with such a heart-breaking situationby repressing their feelings, failing to talk, and desperately compensating for their loved onesactually eliminates incentives for change. Addicts are continuously "rescued" from the opportunity, the consequences of their behavior and, therefore, the desire to change.

The first step to recovery is understanding that treatment is needed. The addict’s task is to accept the treatment they need. This needs to be simply, consistently, and insistently expressed by the family while other family members become committed to stop the enabling behavior where it is taking place. 


1. Do you often feel overwhelmed by your loved one and more preoccupied with their needs than your own?

2. Do you find yourself going against your own personal values or rights to please your loved one?

3. Do you believe that you can frequently anticipate your loved one’s needs?

4. Do you keep quiet to avoid arguments?

5. Do you think your loved one’s life would go downhill without your constant efforts?

6. Do you find yourself lying to cover up your loved one’s behavior?

7. Do you blame yourself for your loved one’s addiction?

If you answered yes to these questions, you may be neglecting your own needs as well as enabling your loved one's addiction. Please contact Waters Edge Recovery for help or more information. Our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day, 855-522-2064 or visit www.watersedgerecovery.com

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