December 13, 2021

Attempting to distinguish between coping vs. enabling skills can be tough to determine, especially if you are new to this disease. Or, if you are so far down the rabbit hole of the disease, it is tough to see the distinction.

In addition, whether or not your alcoholic admits to having a problem, or wants to change and get help, also makes all the difference.

I recently researched coping vs. enabling strategies. Seeking help to see and understand the distinction with an active drinker, and not wanting to enable this behavior, is a good start. You are already well intentioned with the desire to help, and to learn about this disease and strategies to live with the stress associated with it.

Based on the Cleveland Clinic’s article, “Stress: Coping With Life's Stressors,” they define the following as coping strategies:

What are some common coping strategies?

Some common coping mechanisms that may help you in your daily life managing the stress of a loved one with alcoholism and/or addiction, include:

  • Lower your expectations.
  • Ask for help.
  • Take responsibility for the circumstances.
  • Begin problem solving.
  • Seek and continue emotionally supportive relationships and connections.
  • Maintain emotional composure or, alternatively, express upsetting emotions.
  • Challenge prior beliefs that no longer serve you.
  • Purposely attempt to alter the source of stress.
  • Distance yourself from the problem or stress.
  • View the issue through a religious perspective.

They state, “Experts agree that coping is a process rather than an event. You may alternate between several of the above coping strategies in order to cope with a stressful event.”

 In reading the above, you can see coping has a lot to do with two of our “Five Courageous Acts,” which are to prioritize your self-care, and own your beliefs. If you notice in the above, most, if not all, of the behaviors stem from taking care of yourself and owning your beliefs. These strategies also encourage you to stay in your lane.

Signs you may be Enabling

Enabling is basically when you are doing things for someone they can, and should, be doing for themselves. In addition, avoiding or denying that there is an issue, and/or ignoring or tolerating problematic attitudes and behavior, are other forms of enabling.

In distinction to coping, here are some signs of enabling from Laura Close, an addiction content expert at American Addiction Centers.

Some signs that you may be enabling someone’s addiction include:

  • Making excuses for the person’s behavior, which includes blaming other situations or yourself.
  • Cleaning up after the person’s disorder and messes.
  • Placing the other person’s needs ahead of your own.
  • Ignoring obviously problematic behaviors of your loved one. This includes lying, stealing, and other forms of deception.
  • Creating excuses that cover up for the other person’s behavior and actions.
  • Completing activities or responsibilities that the addict should do for themselves, like cleaning up after them, serving them, shopping for them, etc.
  • Coming to the rescue of the addict when they have created a problem.
  • Continuously creating ultimatums or boundaries, and not following through with them.
  • Constantly feeling emotionally and physically exhausted and/or drained.

Her tips to stop enabling are especially helpful:

  • Stop assisting them financially, and with other basic tasks they can do for themselves.
  • Allow them to see and feel the brunt of their actions and behaviors.
  • Speak to your loved one about their behaviors when they are sober, and in a clear state of mind. 
  • Be clear, firm, and assertive in your boundaries.
  • Show nonjudgmental support. 
  • Speak to a professional.
  • Make a plan to put yourself first as you cope with your loved one’s disease.
  • Take control of this plan and your own life, and stick to a schedule.

We hope this helps in distinguishing the difference between coping and enabling strategies. These strategies are for you to integrate into your daily life to make sure you are prioritizing yourself as we navigate the trenches of this disease. 

 Remember, it is our hope for you that you are not just surviving, but putting yourself above all else, and thriving. It is your God given right to live your best life.