Last Updated on July 26, 2017 by Morris Green
Do you know what enabling is? We discussed what it means recently in What Is Enabling? Now, we’re clearing up some confusion by talking about what enabling isn’t.
There are many mixed opinions about what does and doesn’t enable an addict. Just look at these two opposite opinions:
- Stop Calling Your Drug Addiction a Disease: In this article written by Brianna Lyman, drug addiction is painted as pure, unadulterated choice. The author’s opinion? “Stop playing the victim role [by] thinking you have a disease that you brought on yourself because of your choices.” Essentially, Lyman concludes that calling drug addiction a disease enables.
- The Svec Response: In reply to Lyman’s opinion-based article came a letter by Melissa Svec. Her opinion? “I’m sorry, but science is stacked up against your opinion here, Brianna.” Svec goes on to discuss the facts behind medical science identifying drug and alcohol addiction as a disease.
The published exchange illustrates the confusion that exists about what enables an addict to continue their destructive behavioral pattern. It shows the gap we need to bridge between taboo and mental illness. With that in mind, we’re here to cover the top two things enabling isn’t.
#1: It’s Not the Recognition of a Medical Condition
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse – one of the most authoritative and factual voices in the substance abuse and addiction field – confirms that addiction is a complex disease. They even liken it to accepted medical illnesses like diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. Here’s the takeaway point:
You can take actions to prevent or delay diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, but these actions never guarantee avoidance. Similarly, you can take actions to avoid a drug or alcohol problem – from limiting use to following medical advice – but avoidance is not guaranteed. Some people have a predisposition to addiction, just like some have a predisposition to diabetes; it’s not their fault.
Recognizing addiction for what it is doesn’t enable. It opens the door to the right kind of help, just like recognizing diabetes results in successful lifestyle changes and medical treatment.
#2: It’s Not “Helping”
Enabling is the exact opposite of helping, but it’s easy to confuse the two. When someone you love has a substance use disorder, it’s natural to want to fix it and easy to fix in all the wrong ways.
Let’s say your car breaks down on the side of the road. You know something’s wrong with it. You might even have a clue as to what that is, but chances are you won’t diagnose and fix it alone. You’ll limp your car to a trusted mechanic, and if you’re a mechanic, you’ll consult the necessary resources to properly diagnose and fix your car.
Addiction is similar, but we treat it differently thanks to the ingrained misconception that it’s 100% willpower and choice based. The car didn’t choose to break down, and the driver may not have contributed to it.
Denial, justification, suppressing feelings, avoiding the problem, playing the blame game, minimizing the gravity of the situation to protect image…that’s enabling. But these same actions can be seen as helping to the uneducated person. If you know an addict, take the time to learn all you can about addiction and find an expert, just like you’d find a mechanic or a doctor when your car or body needs professional help.