When to stop helping an addict

When does your help actually become HARMFUL? We review the difference between positive and negative help here. With a section for your questions at the end.

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There is no question that addicts need help.

There are times when you can catch an addict on the right day and allow them to see what they are doing to themselves. You can also show an addict love and create boundaries which force them to get help. Sometimes, a serious event will cause an addict to seek help. Other times, an addict may come to the conclusion that they need help on their own.

So how can you tell when your “intervention” can actually help, or not? We discuss the difference between positive and negative help here. Then, we invite your questions, personal story, or comments at the end. In fact, we try to respond to all comments with a prompt reply!

Positive help for an addict

If you love an addict there are ways that you can help, but there comes a point when you need to stop helping because the help has transformed into enabling. Where’s the line between the two?  Let’s use some concrete examples to help you understand the distinction. Productive help includes things like:

  1. Performing an intervention with a specialist, friend and family
  2. Setting up a place for recovery
  3. Loving the addict from a distance (Let go and let God)
  4. Setting up boundaries for the addict
  5. Enforcing the boundaries
  6. Supporting the addict when THEY decide to go into recovery

However, most loved ones of an addict have tried these routes and many of us have failed.

Addiction is an illness. The families of addicts feel so sorry for the addict or have guilt about their addiction that they want so desperately to help, control, or be a catalyst for change. In some cases, an addict will see what they are doing to their loved ones and go into recovery. But in most cases, the drugs have gotten to a point where they can no longer make choices. In many cases, there are severe underlying mental illnesses that the addict is self-medicating for and cannot see another way to deal with.

I describe most addicts as, “Self-medicating people that deal with the demons and the void they feel on a daily basis through substances”. However, what happens when the demons win and the addict will do anything or destroy anyone to continue to use?

If you are reading this article then you probably have experienced this. But families of addicts need to see addiction from the other side. When our guilt, fear and love for a person override our rational self, then we are most likely no longer helping and more than likely hurting or enabling the addict.

Negative help for an addict

If you have tried to assist the addict with Positive Help but there has not been any success and you are continuing to “help” then chances are you are providing negative help. Negative help – a.k.a. enabling – DOES NOT HELP and  includes things like:

  • accepting chronic relapses
  • begging the addict to stop
  • cleaning up after the addict
  • crying over and over again for the addict to stop
  • giving the addict an ultimatum to stop (recovery) and then not following through
  • giving them a place to stay when they are homeless
  • lending money to the addict
  • making excuses for the addict to family and friends
  • making excuses for the addict to their work
  • paying bills for the addict
  • showing unconditional love by taking on things that the addict has dropped
  • taking on extra responsibilities because the addict cannot function
  • yelling at the addict to stop

Still, this list is not exhaustive and there are more items that can be added but the sentiment is the same. When you do anything to make it easier for an addict to continue to use you are:

  1. Enabling their addiction
  2. Prolonging their addiction
  3. Prohibiting them from hitting rock bottom

Letting go of an addicted loved one

Many loved ones of addicts will search feverishly for ways that might help them help the addict. And they have convinced themselves that leaving an addict is too hard. When they run into information that tells them to let go of the addict for the addict’s own good, incredulously they reject the information.

This is the point where a loved one needs to start looking at their role in the addict’s addiction. If you are at a place where things do not change in regards to the addict and your interactions with them, then something else needs to change.

You will need to stop “helping” in this situation. This is the time to let go and offer your support from a distance. That means you can extend to the addict the following support.

SUGGESTION 1: When they are truly ready and ask for your help for getting into recovery, be there for them.

SUGGESTION 2: As long as they continue to use and lie, do not assist them.

SUGGESTION 3: No longer be a party to helping them to be able to use. Period.

Questions about helping an addict

Do you have a question or situation you’re struggling with? Please leave us a note in the comments section below. We’ll do our best to respond to you ASAP.

About the author
Amanda Andruzzi, MPH, AADP, CHES, is a Certified Health Coach, founder of Symptom-Free Wellness, and the author of Hope Street. Her first book, Hope Street memoir is an inspirational story of one woman's frightening journey of co-addiction that led her to uncover courage, unbelievable strength and overcome great adversity. She resides with her daughter, husband, and two sons in Florida.
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