As human beings, we are innately driven to protect our loved ones. Although this intrinsic characteristic typically shields our kin and spouses from life-threatening situations, when substance use is involved, it can sustain and even encourage the illnesses with which our loved ones struggle.
Both fueled and blinded by love, we end up protecting the addiction, rather than the loved one trapped within it.
We should start by remembering the definition of Substance Use Disorders:
Substance Use Disorder is a complex brain disease and includes such diseases as alcoholism and drug addiction. Substance Use Disorders occur when a person has a dependence on alcohol and or drugs that is accompanied by intense and sometimes uncontrollable cravings and compulsive behaviors to obtain the substance.
Therefore, the most challenging task for family members and friends is to differentiate the individual from the disease. Be it a person who is in active addiction to alcohol, prescription medication, illegal substances, or gambling, it is essential that the individual with the illness is viewed as a distinct individual, set apart from all symptoms and behaviors that are caused by the illness.
Whether the user’s friends and family realize it or not, he is suffering from a psychological, and perhaps physical, dependence that holds his aspirations, priorities, and personality captive.
Once friends and family can differentiate the person suffering with the illness from the illness itself, they should think about all the ways that they have helped protected the user from experiencing the financial, legal, social, marital, and job-related consequences of the addiction.
If, in fact, they search their souls for this task, it is probable that each of them will think of some ways that they have defended and protected the addiction; not the person enslaved by it. Unfortunately, this type of behavior, which is called ‘enabling,’ often becomes so routine that it becomes entangled with habitual norms. Some examples of this behavior, which is called ‘enabling,’ are listed below.
• Repeatedly covering up for the person at work or home
• Loaning the person money with hopes that this time, the money won’t feed his or her addiction
• Moving the person when they pass out
• Bailing the person out of jail or paying for legal expenses
• Remaining quiet when the person is inappropriate or disrespectful to others
• Driving the person to get drugs or alcohol so that he or she does not drive under the influence
• Standing up for the person when he or she was wrong
For those of us who have previously enabled our loved ones, it is obvious that we have meant no harm. Rather, we have only been misguided, partially by our intrinsic drive to protect those we care about, and partially by our denial of the problem. Misguided as we were, we must stop enabling at once, if we have any hopes of our loved ones recovering.
Only when they may experience all of the consequences of their addictions may they ever recognize and defeat their addictions.
Most people know that addictions have their roots in chemical changes in the brain, and as a result, most people are supportive of those who choose to fight back and really get better, despite the obstacles they face. Which is why participating in a support group can help family members to learn more about how addictions progress, and how they are treated.
The good news is that there are a variety of services and support groups that are intended specifically for the loved ones of individuals suffering from alcohol and drug addiction. These groups offer the loved ones of addicts an invaluable resource for a variety of reasons and are highly beneficial for those experiencing the secondhand effects of the disease of addiction. These groups include Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, and Co-Dependents Anonymous.
Many of these groups are listed on our website at wellspringprevention.org/information-referral or by calling us at 732-254-3344.