Thursday, June 18, 2009

Empathy versus Enabling

Drug and alcohol addictions are rampant and seemingly growing in America and the rest of the world. One bad way to try to help an addict is to feel sorry for them and bail them out when they get into trouble.

Several years ago during the time I was still doing Clinical Counseling I was called by a Pastor who asked me to contact a family whose thirty year old son was a chronic addict. The parents had spent all their money and even mortgaged their family home to chronically bail the kid out of trouble.

My discussion with her unfolded why the parents were broke and the son was still addicted.

Mother: Dr. Sweeten, what can I do? My son is in jail and they are insisting that he go to a treatment center.
Gary: How many times has this happened?
Mother: Many times.
Gary: What have you done before?
Mother: We have paid his fine and got him an apartment.
Gary: Did it work to help him change his behavior?
Mother: Well, his life has been difficult. His ex wife left him and took the kids. So, he started doing drugs again.
Gary: So, it did not work to stop him from drinking and doping again.
Mother: The poor boy hasn't had a chance.
Gary: So, you feel sorry for him?
Mother: I feel so badly when he is in trouble.
Gary: Mrs. Johnson, you had better stop feeling so sorry for you son unless you kill him. What you are doing is called "Enabling or Co-Dependence". In order for a person to be an addict there must be an enabler.
Mother: (Crying) But I can't be so cruel and let him stay in jail with all those criminals. I love him too much.
Gary: What you are doing the Bible calls hate not love. It will eventually kill him unless you stop. You and your husband need to attend Al Anon, a group for families with an addicted relative. Al Anon teaches relatives how to understand their loved ones but stop enabling them. Mrs. Johnson, you need treatment more than your son. Call me after you go to Al Anon.

Gary Sweeten

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