Supporting the Addict and the Dangers of Enabling
Alcoholism and drug addiction effect families tremendously. They also impact friends, employers and many others. Big question – How do you support suffering addicts without enabling them?
This is a matter that most family members, friends, bosses and co-workers of an addict struggle with. They ask themselves over and over why this is happening? Why does their loved one just not stop? How could anyone be so self destructive? Why do they keep hurting themselves and everyone else? Maybe they are just a bad person? Are they simply insane? Why isn’t my help and love enough?
By Kari Mackneer, Clinical Director, LMHC
A 3 to 6-month process
Many have been to numerous treatment centers for inpatient and outpatient services, which can be very trying for all associated with the suffering addict. In our experience, it takes 3 to 6 months for a person to recover to the point where they can successfully integrate back into society with the tools necessary to stay clean, sober, healthy and happy.
The fact of the matter is that the addict is not a bad person trying to become good. The addict is a very sick person who needs to get well. A person deep in their addiction is temporarily insane. This is hard for many people to accept. Addiction is not a character flaw or moral issue. It is a disease. A family member or friend has no more ability to change a person in active addiction than they do to cure any other disease. In fact, they could make the situation worse. Most well-intentioned efforts will likely have little affect unless the individual is a highly skilled therapist, someone in recovery with a strong recovery program or a person who has successfully working with someone in recovery.
What should you avoid doing? Avoid criticizing and name calling whenever possible. Addiction feeds on these things. It feeds on failure, disappointment, hurt and negativity. The suffering addict already feels hopelessly lost. Remember, as much as everyone else affected by the addiction is suffering, no one is suffering more than the addict though that may be hard for many to believe. The guilt, remorse, and shame felt by the addict is almost indescribable.
This is a major reason addicts continue to use. They are unable to deal with the pain of what they have done, they get high to numb it out, and more destructive behavior ensues. The addict feels even more guilt, remorse and shame, they get high again, and this vicious cycle continues getting worse each time. As stated in the big book of AA, this disease if left untreated inevitably results in one or more of three things happening to the addict: 1) They end up in jail, 2) They are institutionalized, 3) Death.
Some may say suggest “tough love.” But love is never tough. Love is love. Love can be expressed in many forms but “tough” is not one of them. While you want to help and support the addict, be careful not to enable them. This does not mean tough love. It means you love the addict enough not to enable them into further sickness or even death.
Beware of manipulation
A person in the depths of addiction may become extremely manipulative. This is necessary to continue to feed the disease – lying, stealing, cheating or worse are commonplace. The addict learns to become extremely convincing in his or her deception. It is very important that you recognize this behavior as a symptom of their disease. Giving in to requests or demands for money, food, drugs and vehicles will likely do the suffering addict far more harm than good. Giving in to these demands is not love though you may think it is. That said, not giving into these demands is not “tough love.” It is a true expression of love. You are willing to demonstrate to the addict that you love them so much you will not enable them into the grave.
What can you do? The best advice is to learn everything you can about the disease. Groups like Alanon can be extremely helpful. There is a great deal of online content and many books that can also be helpful. There are many pathways to becoming clean and sober. It is important that you familiarize yourself with different programs and approaches. Try to empower the addict and urge them to seek treatment, whatever that might look like. You may need to seek your own therapy.
Be honest with people and don’t minimize the addict’s disease. Try not to rationalize the behavior. Addiction is nothing to be ashamed of. You would not be ashamed of your relative, spouse, sister or brother if they had cancer, diabetes or any other disease.
Be an objective witness to the addict, helping them to understand that they are very ill and need help (with the aid/advice of other people in recovery or someone experienced in recovery if possible), without making them wrong or judging them. Try to love the addict unconditionally and focus on what is right with them. In many cases these are very good people who have had great careers, are exceptionally talented and have much to offer society once they are well. Make sure they understand that you are there to support them and are willing to help them – but you will not enable them.
In summary, clearly addiction effects families, friends and employers. It can be extremely painful. Try to see past the unsuccessful attempts at recovery in the various treatment centers for inpatient and outpatient services. If you can support the loved one in a manner described in this post, you can greatly increase the chances that their next attempt and recovery will be successful. Remember, it can take 3 to 6 months or longer for a person to recover to the point where they can successfully in society. Practicing patience, love and tolerance will not only help the suffering addict, it will help you, as well!