What is Denial and Enabling?
Dear Dr. Steve
I need you to set me straight.
How is it possible that my friend can lose his job because he missed so much work and yet
blame his boss? How can he watch his wife and children walk out of his life and yet blame
her for being too uptight? How can he spend four months in jail on a DUI charge and yet
explain it by saying that it was just bad luck that he got caught? Everyone that knows
him, everyone that is except his brother, sees the enormity of his drinking problem. But
those two just keep whooping it up. His brother pays his legal bills. His brother gives
him a place to live whenever hes thrown out of whatever place he happens to be
calling home. His brother gives him a company truck to driveforget the fact that
hes totaled two other trucks and his license has long ago been suspended. When
hes not drinking, he really is a great guy. But as great a guy as he is, hes
just as self-destructive. I just dont get any of it. Can you shed some light on
whats going on here?
equally difficult and maddening to watch somebody you care about blindly destroy their
life. Helplessly watching his brother pour gasoline on an already out of control fire must
be beyond comprehension to you. Youve put your finger on the insanity of
alcoholismotherwise good people destroying their lives aided and abetted by the very
people who love them and believe that theyre protecting them from themselves. How
does this happen? How can otherwise intelligent people be blind to what theyre doing
to their life and how do they get their love ones to assist them in their self-destructive
two explanationsdenial and enabling. Denial is an integral part of the
disease of alcoholism. Denial is a defense mechanism that protects an individual from
seeing and acknowledging the truth about their drinking and drugging. Although you will
never see denial listed as a symptom of chemical dependency, denial is a dynamic that
enables a person to continue to use drugs and alcohol despite experiencing adverse
does denial enable the user of drugs and alcohol to remain in the dark about their using,
family members can be equally in denial about the chemically dependent persons
relationship with drugs and alcohol. Instead of openly acknowledging that their loved one
has a problem with drugs and alcohol, the friend or family member may attribute the
users behavior to poor health, gross misfortune, a tendency to be accident prone, a
quick temper, a mean disposition, or whatever explanation is more palatable than hes
an alcoholic or shes a drug addict.
family member, often times many years may pass before they recognize that their loved one
has a problem with drugs and alcohol. How can this be? Denial is one explanation.
Enabling is another explanation. You see, when people close to a chemically dependent
individual are equally in denial about their chemically dependent family member, they
often act in ways that protect the chemically dependent individual from experiencing the
consequences of their behavior.
of protective behavior is referred to as enabling. Like denial, enabling is another one of
those dynamics of chemical dependency that is not a symptom, but is a well recognized
aspect of the disease that perpetuates the disease. How can acts of love and concern be
responsible for the continuation of the disease of chemical dependency? Enabling insulates
the chemically dependent individual from the consequences of their behavior. Without
experiencing the consequences of their using behavior, the chemically dependent individual
will continue to use. The more the chemically dependent individual uses the more their
symptoms of chemical dependency intensify. The more the symptoms of chemical dependency
intensify, the more their disease progresses. The more the disease progresses, the more
out of control their life becomes. The more out of control the chemically dependent
individuals life becomes, the more enabling the friend and/or family member does.
The more enabling the friend or family member does, the less consequences the user
experiences. The less consequences the chemically dependent experiences, the more the
chemically independent uses. And so it goes.
one step out of this vicious cycle? Chemical dependency thrives in an environment of
denial, enabling, and secrecy. As long as people remain ignorant to the fact the chemical
dependency is a disease, they will remain convinced that chemical dependency is a sign of
moral depravity and/or weakness of character. As long as people remain convinced that
chemical dependency is a sign of moral depravity and/or character weakness, they will
continue to feel shame if they or a family member are suffering from the disease of
chemical dependency. As long as there is shame attached to what it means to be chemically
dependent, the chemically dependent individual and their friends and family will continue
to conspire to maintain a code of silence, a veil of secrecy, and a system of denial and
the cycle, one must break through the veil of secrecy and denial. To make the chemically
dependent individual take responsibility for their disease, one must speak out against the
familys enabling behavior. To end the destructiveness of chemical dependency, one
must first act from the conviction that talking about chemical dependency, exposing
chemical dependency and its toxic impact on the family is the only path to sanity and
Recovery for the chemically dependent individual and their family. Support groups like
A.A., N.A., Al-Anon, and Alateen exist to help people concerned about chemical dependency.
can contact Al-Anon at:
Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc.
1600 Corporate Landing Parkway
Virginia Beach, Va. 23454
Tel # 757-563-1600
Fax # 757-563-1655
1-888-425-2666 for meeting information
Monday-Friday, 8am to 6 pm ET except holidays
You can contact Alcoholics Anonymous at:
In the U.S./Canada: Look for "Alcoholics Anonymous" in any telephone
directory. In most urban areas, a Central A.A. office, or "Intergroup," staffed
mainly by volunteer A.A. s, will be happy to answer your questions and/or put you in touch
with those who can. Or, you can write to: A.A. World Services, Inc., P.O. Box 459, New
York, NY 10163 - (212) 870-3400.
of U.S./Canada, write or call the General Service Office located closest to you.
can contact Narcotics Anonymous at:
World Service Office in Los Angeles
PO Box 9999
Van Nuys, California 91409 USA
Telephone (818) 773-9999
Fax (818) 700-0700
Business hours are Monday through Friday, 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM local time
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. Frischs, Psy.D.
Recovery book seriesFrom Insanity to Serenity.
1.) Consult with a qualified healthcare provider in order to assess and evaluate the
extent to which youve been affected by alcoholism.
2.) Contact your local chapter of Al-Anon.
3.) Read as much as you can about the disease of alcoholism and drug addiction.
4.) Read as much as you can about what Recovery is.
5.) Meet as many people as you can at Al-Anon meetings.
6.) Integrate the Twelve Steps of Al-Anon into your life.