What are Enablers?
By Scott Mc Cann
| "Behind Every Good Person is
a Woman (Man)". These sayings also apply to the alcoholic or addict. Unless the
alcoholic or addict is a complete recluse or hermit, there will always be another person
in their life. It could be a spouse, parents, siblings, children, employer, team manager
or another addict. These people will have a major impact on the success and longevity of
the addicts recovery.
These other people tend to fall into three major categories. First there is the kind and loving parent or spouse who truly want to help the addict. They have taken the time to read and understand the disease of addiction. They have emotionally distanced themselves so they can be of true help. They are capable of avoiding the manipulative power of the addict and can provide a gentle yet stern hand in directing the addict to help.
The next group is the enablers. Enablers are defined as "people who prevent the alcoholic/addict from experiencing their consequences of their disease"
These people in reality are very pragmatic and motivated. The time frame of recovery is on their terms and not that of the addict. Let's take three examples.
The first is the professional athlete and team manager. We have all seen the articles in the news paper about the athlete with the drinking problem. He promises to stop drinking and goes to a rehab in the off season. If he has problems with the law or a drunk driving conviction the team bails him out and provides him with a chauffeur. As long as he is producing for the team his actions are tolerated. As soon as his performance declines, he is traded or retires. Often times his retirement coincides with his normal matriculation. He retires a raging alcoholic or drug addict with no support from the team that benefited from him. He now makes the news as a has-been, all washed-up. He's a disgrace to the sport and will never be admitted to the Hall of Fame, no matter how good he was or how much he contributed to the sport.
The next is the employer or boss. He has an excellent salesman, program manager, engineer or finance person who is producing and contributing to the bottom line. The employer will tolerate the long lunches, missed afternoons and skipped days. However, as soon as the project is over or the corporate political winds shift, the employee is let go. To avoid any possible litigation, the person is let go due to corporate downsizing, or corporate restructuring. In Europe this is called redundancy. While at the company, the employee had medical insurance and employee assistance. Now he has nothing, forced to look for a new job and never dealing with his problem.
The next example of an enabler is the spouse. This is someone, regardless of gender, who has become accustomed to a life style made possible by the addicts earning power or popularity. They are use to the vacations, social functions and the like. So what if the addict makes a fool of themselves "He's had one too many". If he's too drunk to drive the spouse will drive him home. Or just leave him there.
The spouse will continue supporting the addict as long as the income or social status remains. Once the alcoholic becomes too much of a burden, the spouse leaves. Their justification is "I did it for his own good" or "I did it for the children"
As mentioned at the beginning, enablers are pragmatic people. If they believe the alcoholic or addict can be rescued, they weigh the costs and benefits. If it makes economic or social sense, they will place that person into a 28 day rehab. However, since understanding the disease is not their priority, they expect the alcoholic to be cured in 28 days. Anything short of that is the addicts fault.
The final category is the codependent. We are not talking about the caring or nursing type of codependency. Rather we are talking about those people who have their own neurotic psychological addictions. The addict is their drug of choice. They can be just as manipulative as the drunk and without somatic chemical impairment can be more convincing. They control when and how the addict is treated. Often times they will sabotage the recovery by taking the alcoholic out of treatment or therapy.
Should the alcoholic be successful in their treatment and recovery, the codependent is now faced with the dilemma of their own addiction. Many times the codependent will leave the alcoholic to find another human fix. This behavior can be seen in the recidivism of bad or abusive relationships.
For the interventionist, therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist trained in addictionology, distinction of these categories is crucial in their prescription of treatment. For the alcoholic or addict, these differences may seem like mere semantics. In their fogged state, it probably is. For their long term sobriety and relapse prevention, they need to understand these categories as well.
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