How do you get the right balance of helping enough but not interfering with your loved one’s life?


I think one of the biggest resources of someone with addiction can be a loving family member or friend.

As a parent, though, I often am unsure. Am I helping or interfering (when I am trying to encourage a certain action or behavior from my kids)?

This would be the case with or without addiction, but having the addiction to deal with makes everything even more murky.

How do you decide when intervention on your part is the best choice, and when to let your loved one face consequences on their own without my guidance trying to help them make better choices?


Man this is a tough one @Julie_Smith and I certainly still (and probably always will!) consider this a lot.

Natural consequences are a great teacher. 1. Because the lesson doesn’t come from us, and 2. Because it allows our loved one to own their wins - which I think, and have seen, is equally important. With my husband, he has a lot of self doubt to overcome so praises of simple things matter a lot to him - I guess they might do to us too :slight_smile:

I’ve definitely developed more of a muscle to let my husband flounder, though it can be really frustrating to watch, I guess it’s an acceptance learned over time that I can’t change the way he is immediately. I can reinforce and contribute to positive changes over the long run, but immediately I’m not able to change things for him. Does that make sense?

Maybe it’s a decision between intervening in a long term mindset vs short term. And aiming for the long term.

SO that means - let them experience natural consequences in the short term and aim to help shape their long term growth. EG. If they miss work today they miss work today, but make yourself available to talk and help with better planning / rhythms to over time make it to work or understand the factors that lead to them not making it to work.

Just a thought :slight_smile:

I’ve found it to be incredibly helpful to move out of a ‘crisis’ and reactionary mindset to a more long term view. I’m able to trust that any one slip is not determinant of a terrible future. And I do still get caught up in emotions when I find reasons to be - which honestly still happens frequently!

BUT all this is caveated with the fact that in my situation we’re certainly out of the depths of the woods with my husband - he’s 3 years out of rehab and into recovery and still slips up but more in a ‘bumps in the road’ way for sure. And not that this couldn’t change. But this is the lens I’m coming from <3


Couple ideas:

  • Asking if and when they want your help and making it known that you’re their for them can let them act on getting your input / intervention.

  • Making agreements together on when you will intervene (out of love) if situations tend to repeat themselves and are harmful

  • Considering / Depending on the critical nature of the situation (always!)


I absolutely agree @Julie_Smith and am so happy you pointed out that one of the biggest resources to our loved ones is us! Also, love those ideas @Jane! Here are a few more from my own experience

I am not a parent, but can certainly identify with trying to find the balance. I also echo @polly in that this will be something to consider often (maybe always), but as you get into the groove of recovery on both ends knowing when to intervene can become clearer and more instinctual.

My brother recently moved back to the US after 17 years to NYC where the rest of the family lives. He had a plan for his move, had a place to stay with a friend, and a job set up. I had a feeling something would go wrong but decided to not say anything and hope for the best. Turns out within 24 hour his friend kicked him out of the apartment for seemingly no reason and he was left on the sidewalk with his luggage, feeling afraid, stressed, and jet lagged! I’m glad I didn’t interfere, because I think this taught him that he needs to think about back up plans and not put all his eggs in one basket.

I was then left with wondering if I should let him stay with me until he found a new apartment. I worried that my helping would hinder him from learning anything from his experience. Ultimately I went with my gut instinct and told him to come to my apartment to sleep on the couch until we figure something out. As a way to manage my anxiety about the situation and the thoughts (“am I doing the right thing” and “am I condoning negative behaviors”) I decided to talk to a few people who are in my support network to hear what they thought. Sometimes, we need a little reassurance that we’re doing the right thing, - and that’s okay! In the end he came over and was more motivated than I’ve ever seen him to continue moving in a positive direction.

So to sum that up a bit:

  • trust your instincts
  • sometimes doing the right thing doesn’t feel good
  • take an honest look at what you’re helping them with and weigh the pros and cons of if you intervene versus if you don’t intervene
  • understand that helping can model positive behaviors, and remind our loved ones that we’re there for them
  • if you have people you can talk to about any of this, reach out and don’t be afraid to ask for help

Sometimes this life can feel like walking on a balance beam, and we are wobbly at first and fall off, but with some practice, patience, and time we’re capable of getting the hang of it :wink:

Here is a link to a post from a few months ago about a similar topic: When do I help and when do I leave him to feel natural consequences?


Loving all these detailed answers! @Julie_Smith this is one of the most difficult things to consider when you have a loved one who is dealing with addiction. While we emphasize the important role friends and family play in the lives of individuals struggling with addiction, there is a line that must be drawn.

Boundaries have to be set for your own sake as well as the sake of your loved one.
For your own sake:
You want to, first and foremost, be sure you are keeping track of how your interference is affecting your own mental health. Take notice of the ways your body may physically react to stress from these situations: you may notice certain muscles tensing or your heart beating faster.

It’s in these types of situations, take action— do something that will calm you down and bring you back to a relaxed state. This can be something like taking a walk or doing a few deep breathing exercises. When my parents would drink as I was a child, this often resulted in them arguing. I often tried to mediate the arguments as they involved my siblings and I in taking sides. But there came a point when I grew a little older when I new that intervening was doing more harm than good for me. When these arguments broke out, I changed my reaction and separated myself from them instead of interfering. It was very hard for me to do this because I was worried about the safety of my parents. But it was something I new I needed to do for my own sanity.

For your loved one’s sake:

Addiction is all about reliance on a substance. That dependency can certainly translate to dependence on a friend or family member in moments of weakness. Unfortunately, it is hard to tell when you are helping enough or helping too much because this all depends entirely on the situation. It is important to provide support when you can, but part of your loved one’s healing process depends on the agency and responsibility they build for themselves. One resource that has helped me greatly with situational decisions and reassurance of certain actions I’ve taken is speaking to my psychologist about them. I’d recommend seeing a psychologist to anyone who is a concerned friend or family member, just because it can all get super overwhelming at time. Receiving that situation-by-situation help can really create a breakthrough for yourself and your loved one, and accelerate the healing process.


Difficult to keep or even know the right balance with addiction it constantly changes. Set boundaries that you can live with let them know you love them unconditionally and give them space to grow


When it comes to a certain point when you all can’t tolerate it no more that’s when you have to take control you are trying to get them well


Difficult to keep or even know the right balance with addiction it constantly changes. Set boundaries that you can live with let them know you love them unconditionally and give them space to grow