Human beings adapt to survive. We harnessed fire to avoid freezing to death. But not all adaptations are as positive as that. We also adapt by enabling others. Individuals living with an addict suffer the pangs of addiction without ingesting substances. In order to spare themselves emotional upheaval, they consciously or subconsciously choose to enable the addict’s behavior. This article explores the more subtle enabling behaviors loved ones use to make life with an addict livable.
- 1. Shelter. Parents are willing to implement tough love – to a point. Faced with the choice of evicting a child with a drug problem or continuing to provide shelter, most parents will elect not to make their child homeless. Their largesse may only extend to providing this necessity, but to the addict, it provides a foothold. The addict becomes the child and the parents will eventually cave.
- 2. False ultimatums. The flipside of #1 is when a partner or spouse decides enough is enough and threatens to leave, but doesn’t follow through. The reasons for hesitation are many. The one contemplating the move may not want to leave the relationship, dysfunctional as it may be. Financial insecurity, social repercussions and feeling owed payback can also compel a person to stay. Whatever the reason, it only strengthens the addict’s resolve to keep using because his or her world is still intact.
- 3. Condescension. A strange human quirk is to delight in another’s misfortune. Not everyone is guilty, but to family members, reveling in the addict’s misery or lording it over them often provides the only measure of satisfaction they can eke out of daily drudgery.
- 4. Passive prayer. Faith can give people strength through difficult circumstances, but there is a flip side as well. Some people place too much trust in divine intervention to solve a problem rather than take proactive steps to improve the situation. Waiting around for a higher power to do the hard work for an addict is not a helpful strategy.
- 5. Lying to the addict. Of addicts’ many regrettable behaviors, lying is the most egregious because it is the one most employed. Lying to addicts, either to diminish or inflate the seriousness of the addiction, is as insidious as the addicts’ compulsive lying. Exaggerating the gravity of the situation may instill a sense of hopelessness in the addicts or make them defensive or combative. On the flip side, there is no reason to minimize the addiction other than to maintain the status quo.
- 6. Bailing them out. This can also be filed under conditional tough love. Many parents are willing to let their son or daughter spend a night in the drunk tank; few are inclined to watch a child spend months or years in jail. No one can fault a parent for wanting to protect a child, but addiction is a progressive disease. Statistics show that as a person gets deeper into addiction, his or her world crumbles. Health and financial issues as well as legal problems rise as the individual descends into the abyss. Repeatedly intervening with lawyers and bail may not seem like enabling, but a parent must eventually ask, “When is enough enough?”
Sovereign Health’s residential treatment provides the separation the addict and his or her family need in order to interrupt the enabling cycle. We offer more than just a physical buffer. As the patient learns about addiction, our family program provides illumination to family members about their behaviors and how these facilitate the addict’s behavior. It is imperative family members participate in the addict’s recovery because addiction affects the entire family. Contact our 24/7 helpline for more information.
About the author:
Darren Fraser is a content writer for Sovereign Health Group. He worked two and half years as reporter and researcher for The Yomiuri Shimbun until they realized he did not read, speak or write Japanese and fired him. Undeterred, he channels his love of research into unearthing stories that provide hope to those dealing with addiction and mental illness. Darren loves the Montreal Canadiens hockey club and horror films and would prefer to enjoy these from the comforts of his family’s farm in Quebec. For more information about this media, contact the author at email@example.com.
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