Helping Without Enabling: Is It Wrong to Hold the Addict We Love Accountable? Part I

What do you do when someone you love has an addiction and needs your help?

“Hey, I’m struggling to pay some bills and need some spare cash?” they ask. Or, “Do you think you could help me out just this one time?”

As a Christian, you want to help. You want to be that light, that love.

But how much help is too much? When does helping become enabling?

Enabling, in the context of us and the addict we love, simply means that we give the struggling addict what (s)he needs to fuel their addiction by trying to help.

And there is a danger to enabling an addict. What happens is that (s)he gets worse because (s)he has the means to fuel the addiction. We feel lied to and taken advantage of. The addict wants more fuel for the addiction so (s)he manipulates us to get it. We feel guilty for “not helping” and the negative emotions make us uncomfortable. So, we try to “help” to ease the pain/guilt. The cycle repeats itself. And both parties lose.

But how do we stop the cycle? Aren’t Christians supposed to give? Aren’t we supposed to love? Doesn’t Jesus love and help those who are in need?

Yes, He does. But he doesn’t just help in love. He also helps in truth. That’s what Ephesians 4:15 means by “speaking the truth in love.”

The love says that the addict needs help. But the truth recognizes that enabling is not going to help. It will only make it worse. Love says “I love you in spite of your addiction.” But truth says, “I love you too much to leave you that way.”

So, how do we help the addict we love in both truth and in love? Let’s look at 3 practical tips together.

1. Pay for the Need, but Don’t Give Cash

It’s hard to discern if the person really needs to have their electric bill paid or is just wanting money to fuel an addiction. One way around that is to pay the bill. Go to the electric company yourself. Have your loved one pull up his account. And you pay the company directly. That way, the addict never has the opportunity to misuse the cash. You have helped without enabling.

2. Set a Limit on How Much and How Often

This tip directly  links to the first one. It’s okay to help someone pay a bill or buy groceries when they’re in need. However, it is enabling when you do it constantly over too long of a time. The addict has to see that (s)he is responsible for providing for his or her own needs. If you pay for all their bills every month, when the addict does get cash, (s)he will use it for the addiction then ask you to pay their bills. So, tip #1 is a great way to help without enabling. But, make sure you set a limit up front as to how much and how often. Otherwise you could end up in the exact situation you’re trying to avoid.

3. Stick to Your Decisions

This tip also ties into the first two, but it extends beyond that as well. One aspect about truth is that it is firm, it is fixed. Truth does not change with emotion or opinion. It is good to set boundaries in place and help the addict you love, but when boundaries break and you give in against your personal convictions and commitments, you can quickly begin enabling instead of helping. It up to you to decide what you will and will not do to help. But once you set your boundary, keep it. Stick to your decisions and be firm throughout the process.

But, how do we deal with the guilty feelings that come with such strictness? Are we being too harsh?

Let’s explore those questions in Part II of this blog post.

Justin FranichComment