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Knowing how to help and not hurt a loved one struggling with addiction is a common dilemma for family members. The reality is that in the absence of good guidance and support, a close family member with the best intentions may end up enabling a loved one’s habit.
Where this danger often surfaces is in the area of finances—one reason that families of Beach House clients attend our monthly intensive workshop and make use of our Wellness Program: they frequently have questions about navigating money matters with an addicted loved one. The indispensable guidance that our Family Program provides can help them chart a healthy way forward, both for themselves and for their loved one. Learn more about our Family Programs and how to participate in our Two-Day Intensive Workshop and Wellness Program.
While families of clients in substance abuse treatment can have different financial considerations requiring more personalized and intensive guidance— (hence our Family Program) —here are some tips that can help you avoid common enabling traps when it comes to financially helping your loved one through addiction:
- Pay bills directly. Whether you choose to pay a loved one’s bills temporarily will depend on a number of factors (where you are in your relationship, whether your loved one is in recovery or active addiction, your own finances, etc.). For example, some family members may choose to pay bills for a loved one who is transitioning out of rehab into a sober living residence and looking for work. (Early recovery can be a challenging time financially, after all.) In these situations, I always recommend that contributing family members pay bills directly rather than give cash, blank checks or debit card numbers.
- Don’t take on financial responsibilities that your loved one is able to assume. This can be a good rule of thumb to follow if you don’t want to be an enabler. Enabling, by its very definition, is taking on responsibilities that really aren’t yours (and in the context of recovery, should legitimately belong to a recovering loved one).
- Work as a team with your loved one to plan a budget. In early recovery, it’s important to encourage a loved one to take responsibility for what they can be responsible for. For some families, this may mean letting their loved one pay their own bills right out of rehab, but then helping them plan out a monthly budget and live within their means. The goal, after all, is to assist and empower a loved one to assume financial self-responsibility, which is in their best long-term interests.
- Provide only non-financial assistance. This can be another approach that works for some families. They may decide to provide temporary housing or help with childcare, for example, as their loved one gets back on their feet in finding permanent housing and a job. Here, too, it’s important to set clear boundaries and communicate your expectations and terms up front.
- If you’re providing financial support, set your terms for how you want to contribute. I often tell families that “those who pay, have say.” If you’re considering providing financial help, you have the freedom to choose exactly how you want to help and for how long and to what extent. If that is not agreeable to your loved one, you don’t have to hand over the money. In fact, it’s a good idea not
Got another tip to add to this list that has helped you avoid financially enabling a loved one? Share it with the rest of us below!