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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.


What is Denial and Enabling?


D
ear 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 he’s thrown out of whatever place he happens to be calling home. His brother gives him a company truck to drive—forget the fact that he’s totaled two other trucks and his license has long ago been suspended. When he’s not drinking, he really is a great guy. But as great a guy as he is, he’s just as self-destructive. I just don’t get any of it. Can you shed some light on what’s going on here?

It’s 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. You’ve put your finger on the insanity of alcoholism—otherwise good people destroying their lives aided and abetted by the very people who love them and believe that they’re protecting them from themselves. How does this happen? How can otherwise intelligent people be blind to what they’re doing to their life and how do they get their love ones to assist them in their self-destructive quest?  

There are two explanations—denial 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 consequences.

Not only 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 person’s 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 user’s 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 he’s an alcoholic or she’s a drug addict.

For a 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.

This type 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 individual’s 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.

How does 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 enabling.

To end 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 family’s 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.

You 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.

Outside of U.S./Canada, write or call the General Service Office located closest to you.

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


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.) Consult with a qualified healthcare provider in order to assess and evaluate the extent to which you’ve 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.

G.B.U.

Steve



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