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Central Susquehanna Valley
Local Interagency Coordinating Council


Enabling in the Illness of Chemical Dependency


It Is Not What It Appears To Be

"Enabling" describes any action taken by a concerned person that removes or softens the effect of a harmful consequence of chemical use upon the user. Enabling prolongs the illness of chemical dependency by hiding the symptoms (i.e., harmful consequences), from the afflicted person. Like fighting fire with gasoline, enabling seems like it should help, but it only makes things worse. Some examples are:

--bailing them out of jail
--giving them "one more chance," then another, and another
--ignoring the chemical use because they get defensive when you talk about it
--using drugs with them
--joining them in blaming others for their bad feelings
--lending them money
--lying or making excuses for them to your friends

It is Part of the Illness

As a person becomes chemically dependent, he or she develops an uncanny ability to deny the problem. This ability is rooted in a sincere delusion that there is no problem. A victim of this illness can (and believe), "I can quit anytime," when it is obvious to you that he or she cannot. This denial system is the most baffling part of chemical dependency! The enabling actions of others strengthen the denial system of the user. It is part of the disease process.

It is Automatic

We begin to enable spontaneously and naturally when a person we care about develops chemical dependency. Most of us want to help our family members and friends. When we enable, we assume that the caring and good intentions behind our actions will get to the user and persuade him or her to stop using chemicals. This is what should happen. Unfortunately, we don't realize that, unlike other people, the chemically dependent person has a system of denial and delusion that is strengthened, not diminished, by well-meaning attempts to remove or soften the inevitable damage caused by his or her continued drug use. We continue to enable because we fear the loss of the user's love if we should question the pattern of chemical use.

It Becomes Your Habit

Enabling is habit-forming. The chemically dependent person helps you maintain the habit because he or she needs you to support the denial system. The dependent person becomes very skilled at using your guilt, fear, and love to maintain your habit of enabling. Here are some examples:

Guilt: "I was loaded the whole weekend. How about letting me copy your answers. I've done you a lot of favors." Friend shares answers. This helps the dependent person avoid the harmful consequences of attending class without the completed assignment.
Fear: "If you don't stop nagging me, I am going to smoke even more dope."
Parents stop reporting their concern and applying restrictions. This helps their child avoid the harmful consequences of sanctions at home due to drug use.
Fear: "There's nothing wrong. You are making a big deal out of nothing." Teacher, fearful of being mistaken, allows the student to stay in class even though drug use is suspected. This helps a student escape the harmful consequences of assessment interview at school or possible disciplianary action.
Love: "If you love me, you'll call the boss and tell her I've got the flu." Wife calls boss. This helps him escape the harmful consequences of disciplinary action on the job.


It Has to Stop or They Won't

Enabling must be stopped. It sounds crazy, but every time you take away a harmful consequence from a chemically dependent person, you are depriving him or her of an opportunity to see the problem. You are keeping them sick!

It is not easy to stop enabling. How do you quit?

  1. Get outside help for yourself on a regular basis. Many concerned people have been helped by Alateen, Al-Anon, Families Anonymous, treatment centers and other resources.
  2. Educate yourself by seeking out knowledgeable people and reading all you can about the illness and how it affects you.
  3. Give yourself time to break the enabling habit. Don't be too hard on yourself if you cannot find the courage to stop enabling at once. Remember a dependent person has a better chance of getting well if you have stopped your enabling.



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