Saturday, May 13, 2017

Reflections and Resources - Addictions

On Thursday and Friday, Sue Washburn, Alice Tondora, and I lead conversations on addiction at the two western Regional Meetings of the Synod of the Trinity in Morgantown, WV and Camp Crestfield. We met some wonderful people who shared our concern for those families and individuals impacted by alcohol and other drug dependency. They shared with us stories of hope and heartache and concern for discerning where the Holy Spirit may be guiding the church in the future to bring hope and healing to those experiencing the pain and struggle in addictions. We came away with affirmation of the direction we are being lead and ideas and suggestions for our common ministry. Some which, we will reflect upon in the next few weeks. We talked about some of the resources available on the internet. Here are a few, though not in anyway an extensive list of possible web links. We include additional links in the next few months.

The U.S. is in the midst of an epidemic of opiate addiction and overdose. Overdose deaths from prescription painkillers have quadrupled since 1999. Deaths from heroin have tripled in the last five years. Pennsylvania has a higher overdose rate than most states.
The Commonwealth Prevention Alliance (CPA) realizes immediate action needs to be taken to prevent opiate abuse. The CPA offers this website, and its content, to increase awareness, education and information on how to seek help. Visit their web page at

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
NIDA provides a wealth of information about drug abuse and links to other organizations and resources. NIDA is committed to bringing timely, factual information on addiction and its treatment to the public. NIDA’s Office
of Science Policy and Communications links scientists, the scientific community, and the media, PILB supports the rapid dissemination of research information to inform policy and improve practice. NIDA’s goal is to ensure that science— not ideology or anecdote—forms the foundation of public information on drug use and addiction.
Visit NIDA online at

Easy-to-Read Drug Facts
As the name of this website states in contains easy to read drug facts. The site will even read the material to you. This website talks about drug abuse, addiction, and treatment. They have a series of videos on this home page and here is one of them. Visit

Why Are Drugs So Hard to Quit? - Video link
Quitting drugs is hard because addiction is a brain disease. Your brain is like a control tower that sends out signals to direct your actions and choices. Addiction changes the signals in your brain and makes it hard to feel OK without the drug. This video from NIDA explains addiction in simple terms and offers a hotline to help you or a loved one find treatment.

Lee McDermott, Contributor

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Enabling and Motivation (Part 3)

The person with a Substance Use Disorder (SUD) is driven by many motivating factors, in order, to maintain their continued usage. One overwhelming motivation is the desire to avoid any of the pain and suffering in their life. Paradoxically, everything they do only increases their pain and suffering created directly by the consequences of their usage. Being unwilling to acknowledge that their alcohol or other drug (AOD) usage is the primary problem, they attempt to deflect responsibility from themselves, they seek to blame the world and particularly, those individuals closest to them for the reasons they suffer so much.
They will tell anyone willing to listen how their employer does not understand them and how they work hard all day without any appreciation. They tell their friends that their spouse cannot be trusted with money, relationships, household responsibilities, etc. and attempt to convince their friends that if their spouse only took better care of them, they would not have all those other problems. They will tell any story which makes them look good and places responsibily for their troubles upon others.
Drug dependent individuals seem to intuitively recruit others who are willing to enable their usage or accept the blame. Their behavior attempts to shift the responsibility away from them (where it should be) and give it to others who unknowingly might believe the responsibility might be upon them. Enabling is any action that removes, alters, or reduces the natural, harmful, often painful consequences of another's behaviors, decisions or choices. For example, if we pay the electric bill for our son's apartment because he spent the money on alcohol or drug purchases. Our action of paying the bill prevents him from dealing with the painful consequences of making payment arrangements, living in the dark, accepting personal responsibility, and/or facing his drug dependency.
Our enabling behavior only prevents our son from confronting his destructive lifestyle. We may view our actions as helpful and compassionate and typically they might be, except when related to drug usage behavior. Our enabling behavior only continues to allow the dependent individual to believe there is no problem, because any painful consequences were avoided. What they learn from our enabling is that they can make us responsible for their future harmful behaviors. When we finally decide to stop our enabling, either due to our inability to help or because we realize it might be counter productive, then the drug dependent person turns the blame on us for their painful consequences and continued problems. Rather than being helpful our actions simply establish a cycle of co-dependent behavior for the individual.
Intuitively, the AOD dependent person establishes a circle of family and friends whom they can call upon to help them avoid the major consequences of their addiction. They may use pleas, guilt, threats within this circle of family and friends to get what they believe they need to avoid the consequences of their poor choices and decisions. They frequently pit one enabler in their lives against another by asking them to keep the secret of their assistance from other family and friends. They may convince you that revealing the secret would cause pain to someone else within your family or friends.
Often, a necessary step to stopping enabling within a family system is for the family to have a discussion with outside assistance to begin the process of sharing the secrets. We enable, because we are fearful of exposing their problems to the world. We don't want their employer to know, their neighbors to know, or we don't want them to go to jail and have to live with a criminal record. Within most families stopping their enabling behavior cannot be achieved without outside assistance. Someone who can education, encourage and support the family through the process of changing their behaviors is vitally important to their finding a successful conclusion.
To help guide people with SUD into recovery requires others to stop enabling and end their repeated attempts at stopping the individual's descent toward hitting bottom. Witnessing someone descending to a point where they will accept help is an unpleasant and painful sight to witness and will break your heart, it is distressing, painful and a fearful moment in their life and in ours. Which is why, we should never do it alone.
Here are some questions to ask yourself when considering whether you are an enabler:
  • Do you often ignore unacceptable behavior?
  • Do you find yourself resenting the responsibilities you take on?
  • Do you consistently put your own needs and desires aside in order to help someone else?
  • Do you have trouble expressing your own emotions?
  • Do you ever feel fearful that not doing something will cause a blowup, make the person leave you, or even result in violence?
  • Do you ever lie to cover for someone else’s mistakes?
  • Do you consistently assign blame for problems to other people rather than the one who is really responsible?
  • Do you continue to offer help when it is never appreciated or acknowledged?
Above list based on Psychology Today article by Karen Khaleghi, Ph.D. and Morteza Khaleghi, Ph.D., co-founders of Creative Care, Malibu, a rehabilitation and recovery center.
Lee McDermott, Contributor

Monday, May 1, 2017

Helpfulness vs. Enabling (Part 2)

In AOD treatment and prevention programs you will frequently hear the word, “enabling.” Generically speaking, enabling and/or helping on the part of most people is a natural and expected response by most people who have any degree of compassion and kindness in their hearts. We are willing to help those people we love because we don't wish to see harmful things happen to them. When our children, whether as a child or an adult, does something stupid or careless, even if we taught them to behavior appropriately, we don't desire to see them suffer from their behavior. Since most of us during the course of our lives have done things we know we should not have done and in turn suffered the consequences. We have found it comforting to know that there were others in our lives who were willing to stand by us and help us through the tough times, despite their expressing disapproval of our irresponsible actions.
For most normal, ordinary, responsible people, we learn from our mistakes and we have the capacity to self-correct our occasional stupid behaviors. We, thereby, appreciate family and friends who assist us get through these experiences. As a result, we hopefully learn from these experiences and our behaviors and future decisions reflect this new awareness and we become better human beings for it. Experience can be a powerful force in helping us mature and grow as human beings. In most, life situations when we assist someone who did something they should not have done, we expect them to correct their behaviors and take responsibility for their current and future actions. In most cases our experience reinforces this view of the world around us.
When behaviors related to AOD dependency enter into the mix, all our views about what is normal, ordinary and responsible get turned upside down and twisted. We find ourselves confused. What we thought we knew about life and people and what is normal no longer applies. We have now turned the corner from helpfulness into enabling. Enabling an individual with an AOD dependency problem only prevents them from experiencing the expected, natural, harmful and painful consequences and deflects their attention away from the base problem which is their continued use of harmful substances.
When we relieve someone from experiencing the consequences of their AOD dependency and its related behaviors, we are preventing them from “hitting bottom.” Our enabling behavior is metaphorically speaking, actually catching them during their free fall toward the bottom. Facing the consequences is the place where they might be open to accepting genuine help and surrender to their addiction. Many people never have the chance to “hit bottom” because there are too many individuals always available and prepared to catch them from hitting their bottom.
There are a variety of reasons we might find ourselves enabling someone with a Substance Use Disorder (SUD). One reason is a lack of knowledge about the nature of AOD abuse and dependency. We might genuinely be unaware that the person has this type of problem. This frequently happens, in the early stages of SUD or with people we do not know well or have little regular personal contact. As a result, we inadvertently enable the person's addictive behaviors because most of us are wired to be helpful. This situation often happens to pastors when responding to individuals asking for some type of assistance from the church.
Then again, we might suspect a problem exists, but we lack sufficient reliable evidence to reach a conclusion and limited contact with the individual. Individual's with AOD problems have skillfully learned how to manipulate people they encounter. They have intuitively learned the survival skills to get others to feel sympathy for their situation. When interacting with a pastor, for example, they might flatter you and tell you how many people in the community admire your work, all in an attempt to convince you, your assistance at this time will enhance your currently favorable image in the community. We might mistakenly believe we can actually turn this person's life around by our willingness to help, since they had all those wonderful things to say about us. In the end, it is all enabling and counter-productive, we will achieve little except to get them to return later seeking further assistance another day.
We need to learn, when we are being helpful and when our actions are preventing the person from facing responsibility for their behavior. As difficult as it may be for us, we need to allow the natural consequences of their behavior to play out in their lives. Do not be surprised if you fail at this, AOD dependent individuals are far more skillful at deception than you are. You will get fooled and probably often. Stopping our enabling behavior takes practice and experience to begin to get it right and chances are good you never will completely, so don't feel guilty about it. Don't allow your inability to get it right negatively influence your ministry of helping those in your community.
We might find ourselves enabling due to a lack of confidence and courage to say "no" to a person who asks for our help, particularly a spouse, a son, or a daughter. We find the distress of coping with the consequences of our saying "no" and we don't believe ourselves capable of dealing with the conflict which would result. We believe we would only jeopardize our relationship and so we give into their demands. We attempt to justify our actions, by rationalizing the situation. We don't want our family member to suffer homelessness, poverty, prison time, etc. so we enable and the situation gets worse rather than better. The reality is that when we do stop enabling it will get much worse, before it gets better.
When we reach the point where we know our enabling behavior is counter productive and we need to stop, we should never do it alone. Just as the drug dependent individual needs others; i.e., treatment centers, counselors, sponsors, etc. to enter into recovery, so do we need others to stop our enabling behavior. We need the support of people outside the situation, whether it is group support, counselors, friends, colleagues, churches, etc. Seeking help and support of others helps make it less painful, but it will still hurt. This is one of many reasons why some of us in the presbytery gather together to discuss the issues related to AOD in our communities. We recognize that we need each other, if we have any chance of helping our communities and churches. We invite you to come and join us at our next meeting on Monday, May 8, 2017 at Noon at the Presbytery of Redstone offices in Greensburg, PA. In part three, we will discuss the AOD dependent individual's motivation in maintaining others who will enable them   
Lee McDermott, Contributor