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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
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Addiction, the Hard Truth for Families

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Jun 19th 2007

It seems that the more I learn about addiction the more I do not really understand and learn again. The concept of enabling is one of those terms that is no really used clearly or understood clearly. Perhaps that is because the term means different things to different people in different situations. Most commonly, the term enabling means that the family from which an addict or alcoholic comes is sick. In this case sickness means that the family is either abusive or addictive and engages in all types of lies and denial to cover up the addiction and abusiveness of all of its members.

However, the term enabling can also mean that a family is neither abusive nor addicted (except for the one member) but makes it easy for the addicted member to continue using drugs or alcohol. The way this happens is that parents and siblings of the addicted member find it difficult or impossible to "lay down the law." Laying down the law has to do with setting up and enforcing certain rules, regulations and limitations that are inviolate. Among these regulations are the following:

1. Enter detox and rehab treatment or you can no longer live in our house.

2. As long as you use drugs or alcohol we will not give you any money.

3. If you are arrested for DUI or disturbing the peace we will not bail you out of jail.

4. If you bring any drugs into our house you will not be allowed to live there any longer.

5. In summation and the bottom line is that: "Until you are free of drugs you are not welcome her any longer. Free of drugs means that you are in treatment and have been free of use for at least 6 months.

The difficulty with putting an end to enabling is that family members feel too guilt and afraid to set limits. Using a form of denial, the family convinces itself that their loved one could lose their life if put out of the house. What they fail to see and comprehend is that continued use of drugs can end in their death and even the deaths of other people if there is a traffic accident.

Parents tend to think about their adult child or adolescent who is now addicted in terms of what they were like when they were young. In viewing the addict in this way they are unable to see that they are being used and manipulated into supporting their continued drug abuse. Remembering the charming and vulnerable baby and small child they once were the family finds it difficult to accept the reality of the present day drug abuse and the fact that this addict is someone who is guided by one relationship and that relationship is to the drug or alcohol.

There is help available for families and their addicted kin if they are willing to face up to hard truths.

Facing the hard truth about addiction and setting limits with the abuser does not guarantee that the use of drugs will cease. In the end it is the drug and alcohol user who must make their own decision to stop using by seeking help for themselves. The only thing that family can do is to clearly state and enforce the fact that addiction is not acceptable and will not be allowed by family members. After that the addict must make their own decisions.

This is difficult for families to face. What are you comments about this tragic topic? You comments are welcome.

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

help is hard to find - marie sears - Apr 19th 2009

I see that this was written in 2007, I pray that family and their daughter got the help they need, and that they are all well.  I am living the exact same nighmare with my daughter in 2009.  After almost 2 years of trying to help, I have  "let go" for the sake of my son who is turning 16, and my famiy.  I don't think she will get help, because I feel that there really isn't any place that will take a homeless drug addict and help them.  I pritty much no that there aren't here in las vegas.  I will never get over the guilt of what I have done, but I feel I had to do it to save my son and my family.  I love her with all my heart, and it makes me want to die that all I could do was turn her to the streets where no one cares about her, and she will be used, and more mentally and physically damaged to the point she probably will kill herself.  Las Vegas police and schools and counseling are terrible. especially the police.  They do nothing to help.  When this happens to your family there is no hope, because we live in a fu*ked up uncaring world.

Letting go and suicide - - Oct 25th 2007

Suicide is never to be discounted.  If a family does not take this and other means of death as overdose, victim of crime etc. into account then they are still in denial.  I have a daughter who is on the streets as an IV drug user and an underlying mental health diagnosis of bi polar disorder.  I am very well aware that suicide is a huge potential as are other methods of death.  I think about her daily, my choices to not enable, and the outcome of her dying alone on the streets.  When I feel dispowered by my choices it is because I am remembering her as the young beautiful child she was full of potential.  I know that my choices now are because I want that person back.  I also know that the risks of death is part of the bottom that may be.  I pray for her and I work on myself most importantly.  There are no easy answers to this problem.  The one thing I know that to keep trying to save her was keeping us as a family all sick.  Letting go has allowed us to heal and move forward.

- RE:suicide - Aug 17th 2007


Dawn's question begs to be answered, a reply is conspicously absent. This happens a lot, whether the addict happened to overdose around the time the family "gave up." 

Suicide - Dawn - Jun 28th 2007

Addiction often leads to suicide. Just because you do the tough love, set the boundries thing, does not guarantee your loved one will get help. You have to be prepared to live with the guilt that accompanies your decison to no longer enable your loved one in the event the abuser chooses to take their life instead of getting help.

I have read on many suicide sites how the family fully expected their loved one to bottom out and then turn their life around. The family let go and the addict let go too. It is a fine line and there are no guarantees. How come you don't mention the possibility of suicide so that families and friends are not blindsided by their decison and it is their decision regardless of what the addict might say.

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