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Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in
Chicago, Illinois and Northfield, Illinois.

You can contact Dr. Frisch, Psy.D. at
(847) 498-5611.

Recover from chemical dependency and its toxic impact on family members. Raise your children to choose to be alcohol and other drugs free. Learn how to in Dr. Frisch’s, Psy.D. Recovery book series.


How to Distinguish Between an Act of Love and an Act of Enabling  

Dear Dr. Steve:

I feel like I’m about to lose it. I swear to God if one more person blames me for being the cause of my son using drugs, I’m going to explode. Doesn’t anybody understand that I love my son. I’m just trying to help. Whenever I try and explain myself, why I do the things I do for my son, everyone calls me an enabler and tells me that my son won’t quit using drugs until I stop enabling. How can an act of love possibly be the cause of my son’s drug problems.

No reasonable person doubts how much you love your son. In fact, your situation is one of the most heartbreaking aspects of chemical dependency—the dilemma of how a loving, well-intended family member can best rescue a loved one who has fallen into the abyss of chemical dependency. Given the choice of idly standing by and watching your son’s life deteriorate, spiraling out of control right before your eyes or doing anything and everything that you can to save your son’s life, well that’s a no-brainer, you’ll do anything and everything that you can to save his life.

But the question is not whether you should do anything and everything or nothing at all for your son. The question you need to focus on is what is the best thing for you to do. Whenever a family member evaluates what’s the best thing to do for their loved one who is suffering from the disease of chemical dependency, it’s helpful to be mindful of a phenomena referred to as enabling. When evaluating the effectiveness of your specific efforts at helping your son consider the following question: Are you providing aid and comfort to your chemically dependent family member or are you merely pouring gasoline on an already raging out of control fire? To answer that question, let’s first examine the difference between helping and enabling.

Helping is an act of providing assistance to somebody for something that they’re not capable of doing at all or at least by themselves whereas enabling is an act of providing assistance to somebody who could and should do something for themselves.

Helping is an act of assistance whereas enabling is an act of insulating an individual from the consequences of their behavior.

Helping is an act that contributes to the solving of a problem whereas enabling is an act that contributes to the perpetuation of a problem.

Helping is an act that empowers a person to grow and become independent whereas enabling is an act that gives permission to a person to remain sick, helpless, and dependent on the enabler.

Helping is a statement of love for and belief in another individual whereas enabling is a statement of pity for and lack of belief in another individual.

Helping is an act of support whereas enabling is an act of control.

Why should you be mindful of the line between helping and enabling?

Think about it this way. Family, interpersonal, occupational, emotional, psychological, physical, spiritual, financial, and/or legal consequences are what can most effectively break through the denial system of a chemically dependent individual and eventually motivate a chemically dependent individual to seek help for their disease. Not your best intentions! Not your threats! Not your love! Not withholding of love! Not your pleas! Not your punitive actions! Not your self-righteous indignation! Not misguided applications of compassion! Not your pain! Not your apathy! Consequences and only consequences have the power to do what no amount of human willfulness can do—get the attention of a chemically dependent individual who is in denial.

As such, anything that insulates a chemically dependent individual from the consequences of their drinking and drugging is actually fortifying the denial system of the chemically dependent individual. And in so doing, any act that fortifies the denial system of the chemically dependent individual enables the chemically dependent individual to remain active in their disease protected from experiencing any of the consequences caused by their drinking and drugging.

So please be mindful of the following. It’s possible to love your son to deathliterally. If, in loving your son, you’re enabling him to not experience the consequences of drinking and drugging then you’re insulating him from the experiences necessary to open his eyes to the one truth that may save his life—until he accepts responsibility for the consequences of his alcohol and other drug use, his life will continue to be ravaged by the use of alcohol and other drugs.

Let me leave you with this last thought. You’re not to blame for your son’s behavior and your son’s disease. You’re a good person who no doubt loves your son! Your life undoubtedly is drowning in despair and desperation. You, rightly so, have no intention of standing by while your son throws his life down the toilet. Take your good intentions. Mix your good intentions with more good information about the disease of chemical dependency. Don’t try and defeat this disease all by yourself. There are dedicated professionals in your community who have dedicated their life to helping people just like you make the best decisions possible for both you and your son’s emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. So how best to know what enabling behavior is? Let me suggest the following questions as potential guidelines for you.


Recover from chemical dependency and its toxic impact on family members. Raise your children to choose to be alcohol and other drugs free. Learn how to in Dr. Frisch’s, Psy.D. Recovery book series—From Insanity to Serenity.

Pathfinder’s Checklist

1.) Do you cover up for your son when he fails to go to school or work because he is “sick?”
2.) Do you protect your son by accepting part of the blame for his drinking or behavior?
3.) Do you avoid talking about his drinking for fear of how he will respond to you?
4.) Have you bailed your son out of jail and/or paid for his legal fees?
5.) Do you pay those bills of his that he is supposed to pay himself?
6.) Do you loan him money?
8.) Do you find yourself giving him one last chance time after time?
9.) Have you finished a job or project that your son should have finished himself?

G.B.U.

Steve



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