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