Enabling - What Is It? And is it truly harmful to a substance abuser?
The term enabling is a derogatory term typically used to describe the behavior of mothers, fathers, children, lovers, friends and spouses who continuously provide money, support, love and even kindness to a substance abuser who in turn continues their problematic behaviors of abusing drugs and alcohol. The implication of the term enabling is that loved ones, oftentimes unknowingly, keep the substance user mired in their substance use thereby causing them harm. The theory of enabling a substance abuser is one of the most misunderstood and misused theories in modern conventional drug treatment.
If you have a loved one that is abusing drugs or alcohol, you know all too well the constant worry you feel. Life may be a roller coaster of alternating highs and lows. There are times when you are cautiously optimistic as the substance abuser may seem to have it all together once again; they may have curbed their problematic behaviors, started attending some type of self help meetings and/or therapy or started school or a new job. You think, perhaps this is the time they are truly going to make it. Then once again everything seems to fall apart, and they are off and running. You are heartbroken and you know you will do whatever it takes to help them get back on track.
As has happened so many times before, they come to you for money for food, rent or to take care of their children. They tell the same old stories and tales of woe. Some may be believable, but most are tall tales that you know are blatant lies meant to manipulate you into giving them what they seek. You offer your help expressing concern about their drug or alcohol problem, and they may even acknowledge that yes, they are struggling once again.
Should you give them money? Should you pay their rent, buy them groceries or take care of their children? Should you bail them out of jail, or let them come home? If you get tough then they cry to you, yes, please help me with my drug problem... but you have heard this all before, is today truly different; might this be the time they actually are sincere? You may feel that your friends, family members, and even your employer are all judging you and that you are completely alone to make these heart breaking decisions.
When do you stop helping the substance abuser and save your resources so the rest of the family has an opportunity to live a more prosperous, sane life? This is a very personal choice, and one that is never easy. There are the thoughts: what if I say enough is enough and then my child, (spouse, parent, or friend) dies alone and in the street? What if I never say no to their requests and they die in my home after I have supported them over and over in their crazy exploits? These are equally likely outcomes to an impossible choice, so what is the answer?
The answer is to keep providing support if that is what is truly beneficial to everyone in the family. Try to remember that your resources go out to many people, not just the individual with the problem. Stop providing support if it leaves you resentful and is causing problems for you and your family; or the best solution is to seek free help and guidance from a Jude Thaddeus Program Family Consultant. You will not be judged or labeled for providing love, money, kindness and support to your loved one no matter how severe their substance abuse problem. Instead you will be provided with a kind and understanding ear; along with some detailed answers to your questions on how to best help your loved one. Whether you choose to implement the suggested plan of action or not is completely up to you, but what you will have gained is a true ally in your quest to help your loved one.
Take heart, people do overcome substance abuse problems regardless of the help and support received, or not received, from those around them. This does not mean that there are not ways in which you can truly provide help and motivation, there are, and the St. Jude Program can help.