Last Updated on July 1, 2016 by Dr. Alberto Solà

The Difference between Helping and Enabling

by Jun 30, 2016

Helping or Harming?

There’s a near-endless list of items that drug dependent individuals should be able to handle on their own. These are life situations and problems that most people learn to deal with at a relatively early age. It’s usually part of the normal process of growing up and gaining some level of maturity.

Very often the normal maturation process for people who become drug dependent in their teens or early 20s, is halted and never progresses. It’s not uncommon to encounter “kids” in their 40s or 50s, entering drug treatment. They are grown men and women, who none-the-less are still entirely dependent upon their parents or family’s money, and seemingly unable to deal with the most basic responsibilities of adulthood.

Drug dependence is a medical condition that requires treatment, much like any other medical disorder. But there’s a significant difference between helping and enabling a loved one.

Drug dependent individuals often display easily identifiable behaviors which are repeated over and over again.

  • Spending all their money on drugs and having nothing left for basic necessities such as food, shelter and clothing.
  • Being unable to hold down a job or remain in school. While there are certainly exceptions and high-functioning addicts, the vast majority of drug-dependent individuals become too dysfunctional to deal with the demands the real world places upon people.
  • Pawning or selling all their possessions in order to buy drugs and no longer having even the most basic essentials necessary for living.
  • Repeated legal infractions, the consequences of which tend to pile up and get worse and worse as time goes by.
  • Stealing from family and friends, because the drug dependent individual knows that they are unlikely to press charges and take legal action against them, even when they discover what has happened.

Upon seeing these behaviors repeated over and over again, friends and family members often feel it’s their duty to help the addicted person in whatever way they can. You take their responsibilities and problem and make them your own. You give them money, you repeatedly bail them out of the consequences of their actions and while intending the best, you’re enabling their addiction to spiral completely out of control.

Drug dependence is a medical condition, not a moral or ethical failure on the part of the addicted individual. The actions drug dependent individuals take, are borne out of desperation and the inability to stop their behavior. That’s pretty much a textbook definition of addiction, continuing a behavior despite repeated negative consequences, which grow greater as time passes. The addict knows that they should stop, but, they can’t. However, unless the underlying medical issue is dealt with in some manner, things are not going to magically improve after “just one more time”.

The concept of “Hitting Bottom”

Conventional wisdom from old-school drug treatment programs usually states that an addict must hit bottom, in order to start the healing process and get well. There are multiple problems with this approach, the most obvious being that there are many stops on the trip down, each one with greater consequences. What constitutes “bottom” can vary tremendously from person to person, and the reality is once a drug dependent individual has become habituated and enters the revolving door of jail or prison for their actions, it becomes increasingly difficult to ever pull out of that spiral and return to a life that has any semblance of being “normal” or functional. Having a criminal record with multiple drug, or drug-related arrests, isn’t going to be very helpful when future employers run a basic background check.

The underlying concept behind the theory of hitting bottom, is that a drug dependent individual will never be able to understand the hold that addiction has over their life, until they’ve lost everything that they once cared about.

The problem is, once every aspect of a person’s life has been stripped away and taken from them, except for their addiction, they’re in a nearly impossible situation, that’s completely unnecessary.

People can and often do, get help, and get better, long before their lives are completely shattered. Ibogaine treatment is extremely effective for interrupting the downward spiral of drug dependence and providing patients with a different perspective on their situation and understanding of how they define themselves.

The Difference between Helping and Enabling

It can be nearly impossible to gain insight into your own enabling behaviors towards family members and loved ones. Obtaining a support system and having a therapist you trust, are often necessary, in order to break the pattern of enabling and instead offer true help to a drug dependent loved one.

A family or professional intervention can be the first step on the journey to true recovery. Sitting down and discussing the impact that your loved one’s addiction has had upon your own life and helping them understand that their addiction is not a reasonable solution.

Even after a drug dependent person has agreed to enter treatment, this is only the first step in the process of healing. Ibogaine treatment provides an extremely effective starting point for the journey to recovery and true healing, but aftercare is absolutely essential for most people. Part of the recovery process often involves family members participating in individual and group counseling. It’s very difficult to understand what actions you should take if a loved one slips back into old patterns of behavior, or to understand when you’re harming the person that you love instead of helping them.

It’s important to remember that true change can and does occur, and healing is a gift that’s available to anyone who truly wants it. If you’re experiencing the consequences of dealing with a family member’s addiction, please don’t hesitate to contact us, and we’ll do whatever we can to help you.