Enabling is a word that has been used in drug and alcohol recovery circles for decades. It can be a term that is very misunderstood and misused. No loved one of an addict or alcoholic wants to be thought of as an “enabler.” To enable literally means to make something possible or easy. It can also mean to permit. An enabler is often believed to be complicit in the drug abuser’s self-destruction. The most common forms of enabling include: providing money to an active user, allowing an active addict/alcoholic to remain at home, paying for an addict/alcoholic’s legal costs, and other actions. Sometimes providing help in these ways is not enabling. How can one determine the difference?
Demonstrations of Love
The enabler will say that he or she is “just trying to help” or “what am I supposed to do, let him go broke or die?” It is never a question as to whether or not a parent or significant other loves the addict or alcoholic. The issue is always the demonstration of love. When most people think about “love” they are actually referring to sentiment. Love, as an action, is not always the easiest path to take. Sometimes love is best demonstrated through not accepting behavior that is harmful to one’s self or other people. When an active addict or alcoholic is allowed to avoid consequences of his or her behavior he or she is not being “loved.” This sounds harsh but consider the alternative. Someone actively using is not rational. His or her decisions are not made based on concern for self or others. The addict only wants to be left alone so he or she can continue to use. People are either a means to this end or are in the way. Until he or she is abstinent this way of thinking will not change.
Consider the Motives
There are some simple questions a loved one can ask when confused about whether or not a pattern of enabling is taking place:
is this going to help my loved one find sobriety?
am I doing this/providing this help because I feel guilty?
am I worried about what others will think?
am I doing this because it helps my loved one or because it will make me feel better?
These are not the only questions to ask but it is a beginning. Not every situation is the same. What one person does may be enabling while someone else does the exact same thing and it is not. There is no exact formula. Always seek the guidance of someone who is objective and has experience in this area. No loved one ever has to face these difficult decisions alone.
The cultural environment today is not exactly conducive to sobriety. It is extremely difficult for young people struggling with drug and alcohol problems to stay focused on recovery. Even though there is a heightened awareness with addiction issues among adults, teenagers have a hard time relating to the danger associated with drug abuse. What is confusing is that some drugs are seen as bad while others are viewed as innocuous. To an adolescent there is no such thing as an innocent drug. While society is hyper focused on opiate abuse, as it should be, marijuana and alcohol have flown under the radar. Not only is it irresponsible to convey the message that marijuana and alcohol abuse are “normal rites of passage” it is dangerous.
Adults vs. Adolescents
Marijuana advocacy has become increasingly popular. Much has been written about the pros and cons of marijuana legalization. In the context of adolescence there is nothing positive about pro-marijuana messaging. Teenagers smoke marijuana for one reason and one reason alone: TO GET HIGH. A young person isn’t smoking pot to “relax” or for pain relief. Similar to how marketing has normalized alcohol abuse, we are now at the point that marijuana use has become so socially accepted that many parents are shrugging it off as “something teenagers do”. Not all teenagers who experiment with alcohol will become alcoholics and not all teenage marijuana users will wind up drug addicts. The question to parents becomes: are you willing to take that risk with your son or daughter?
Where Does It Lead?
The fact is that the majority of adolescent heroin addicts began using marijuana long before opiates came into the picture. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse: “Some research suggests that marijuana use is likely to precede use of other licit and illicit substances and the development of addiction to other substances.” (NIDA: Is Marijuana a Gateway Drug?) In the Insight Program the vast majority of opiate addicts admitted to using marijuana as their first drug of abuse. Many adults rationalize their child’s use of marijuana by stating that they themselves “smoked weed” in high school or college. What they fail to realize is that the pot smoked today is vastly different from what they smoked and the normalization of marijuana consumption has enabled potential addicts much more freedom to use.
What To Do
The first suggestion for any parent who is concerned with a child’s marijuana use is to have the young person evaluated by a professional. This is not an over-reaction and sends a clear message that drug abuse isn’t accepted behavior. Like any other child rearing issue change has to begin at home. Social acceptance doesn’t equal “healthy, normal, and good.” Parents succumb to peer pressure as much as teenagers. No parent should feel that just because social acceptance of marijuana has changed that they need to change their opinion. In reality there may not be a more dangerous drug for a teenager to experiment with than marijuana. Not necessarily because of the immediate danger but due to the treacherous road that lies ahead.