After working with families and close friends of opiate addicts in the most difficult stage of addiction (4th stage), I’ve noticed one primary characteristic present: negative enabling. Consistent exposure to active addiction has the potential to make the most stable person somewhat neurotic. Often, I see family and friends desperately trying to “sober up” the active opiate addict. These efforts almost always meet with failure because the most effective way to deal with an active opiate addict is often “counter-intuitive.”
Love for the opiate addict usually blinds those close to him/her. Traditional forms of compassion, care and concern become liabilities. I see many cases where family continues to provide shelter, food and money to an active opiate addict. These behaviors enable an opiate addict to continue down a path of self-destruction.
Few opiate addicts get sober without consequences. If an opiate addict is provided with shelter, money and an occasional meal, there is little incentive to change. Often, family and friends tell me they provide loved ones with opiate addiction money and shelter because they fear for what might happen if the addict is homeless. They fear the opiate addict might face death or incarceration. Unfortunately, as soon as a person crosses the threshold into full-blown opiate addiction, these risks become real regardless of an opiate addict’s station in life.
There’s a two-sided irony operating in these situations. First, family and friends of an opiate addict play a part in enabling the addict’s behavior to continue, though their intentions are otherwise. Second, despite valid fears regarding an opiate addict’s welfare, the actions of family and friends do little to minimize the risks associated with opiate addiction. I would, in fact, argue that they put an active opiate addict at an increased risk of death and incarceration.
With a steady supply of money, an opiate addict is more likely abuse drugs in greater frequency and quantity. Opiate addiction progresses at a heightened pace. As tolerance to opiates increases, an addict requires more of the drug to sustain the same effect. More potent opiates may be sought. This form of progression substantially increases the risk of overdose and death. At some point, money from family and friends will not support an opiate addict’s habit. At this stage, an addict is very likely to turn to theft.
In short, enabling may increase an addict’s risk of overdose and death. It can also cause addiction to progress at an inorganic rate, making funds acquired from family and friends inadequate to support the habit. Once this occurs, opiate addicts often turn to theft as a way to feed addiction.
Family and friends who contribute shelter, money or any other resources to an active opiate addict engage in negative enabling. Negative enabling essentially means some form of contribution that allows an opiate addict to continue progression in addiction. Positive enabling, on the other hand, encourages circumstances and consequences that offer the best chance for an opiate addict to alter the course of addiction.
5 Tips for Family and Friends of Opiate Addicts
1. No “negative enabling.”
Do not engage in “negative enabling.” Negative enabling is a term that refers to giving an active opiate addict some form of resource that allows the addict to progress in addiction.
The two most common forms of negative enabling I see are giving an opiate addict money or a place to live. It also includes any form of resource, like transportation, that allows an opiate addict to maintain the lifestyle.
Family and friends should learn to say no and stick to it. Saying no is perhaps the most powerful ally in attempts to bring about change in an opiate addict. Do not expect an opiate addict to respond positively when this tactic is put in play. People with addiction grow accustomed to getting what they want. If they have difficulty getting what they want, addicts tend to resort to manipulative behavior. In response to family and friends saying no, an opiate addict might say things like, “you must want me to be homeless… you know what will happen to me if I don’t have a place to stay… I thought you loved me… if you loved me you would…” Statements like these represent emotional booby traps designed to return family and friends to negative enabling.
Say no, and stick to it.
2. Seek outside support.
Family and friends of those with opiate addiction should seek outside support from qualified professionals, such as therapists, or support groups like Al-Anon. These individuals and organizations can offer guidance for people in emotionally volatile circumstances.
When these support pillars are in place, family and friends are less likely to return to negative enabling. I am often shocked at the rate of behavioral relapse in family and friends of opiate addicts. There are times when family assures me they will no longer provide money or shelter to an opiate addict, and a few months later, they return to “old behavior.” This form of relapse bears remarkable similarities to opiate addict’s relapse.
Family and friends who work with qualified professionals and support groups have a better chance of staying the course when it comes to refusing to participate in negative enabling.
You can find meetings of Al-Anon family groups here, and search for licensed addiction therapists in your local area here.
I have also added a list of helpful educational resources at the end of this article.
3. Offer the opiate addict the opportunity to change.
This principle allows family and friends to begin positive enabling. Positive enabling refers to behaviors that encourage change in a person suffering from opiate addiction. The first step towards positive enabling requires an end to negative enabling behaviors. Once the opiate addict no longer receives financial support from family and friends, it is time to offer the opportunity to change.
Let your loved one know you care about him/her, but that you cannot continue to contribute to their addiction. Let him/her know if they desire to change, you will help them find treatment.
Make sure you do your research before choosing an appropriate treatment center. There are a variety of treatment centers, and cost is not always indicative of a treatment center’s effectiveness. I usually suggest a nonprofit treatment center with a strict focus on 12 step recovery. This suggestion comes from years of medical research that substantiate 12 step recovery’s effectiveness. It is also the only medically-proved method to bring about sustained, quality sobriety. I also recommend a same-sex treatment center. Co-ed treatment centers tend to have issues with guest interaction. Discovery Place offers all of this with our 30-day residential recovery program and long-term recovery program. Long-term care for someone with opiate addiction offers the best chance for sustained sobriety. Medical research states 90-days, minimum, provides an ideal opportunity for a lifetime of recovery. You should also consider offering articles on the topic of opiate addiction detox, the first step in the treatment process.
Almost all opiate addicts do not possess the means to financially contribute to treatment. If you are in a position to assist, I highly encourage it. Without the assistance of family and friends, many people with opiate addiction would never have the opportunity to recover. If an opiate addict is not in a position to contribute, and no family or friends are willing, direct them to SAMHSA’s website. This resource can help an opiate addict find a state-funded treatment center.
One of the best times to offer help (in the form of treatment/rehabilitation) is when an opiate addict faces legal consequences. These situations can be a wake-up call and hasten an opiate addict’s decision to change.
This video offers some very helpful advice for those looking to bring about change in an opiate addict.
4. Make other family members and friends aware of the situation.
There’s a good chance most of the family already knows. To be sure, however, inform other family members and friends about the situation. Let them know you appreciate their consideration and encourage them not to provide money or a place to stay for an active opiate addict. With the rest of the family on board, it will be increasingly difficult for an opiate addict to support active addiction.
Some people feel ashamed talking about something like opiate addiction, especially a parent who feels that addiction reflects poorly on them. Please know that addiction affects families from all walks of life. By choosing transparency over secrecy, you can have an impact on the course of your loved one’s addiction. I am not claiming you can sober them up, but I am saying you can choose to refrain from contribution to active addiction.
5. If your loved one suffers from opiate addiction, there is very real risk of incarceration, overdose or death. You should know this.
Unfortunately, this is the nature of opiate addiction. Many addicts travel too far across addiction’s bleak bridge into the confines of jail, or even worse, death. It does not matter whether an opiate addict hails from a healthy or unhealthy background. Once addiction takes hold, the risks are present. The risks of incarceration, overdose and/or death increase as addiction progresses.
Many family and friends are unaware of the four stages of addiction. Each of the stages presents certain characteristics.
1st stage: Experimentation
2nd stage: Social and/or regular use
3rd stage: Problem use
4th stage: Addiction/Chemical Dependency
The average lifespan of an opiate addict is considerably less than that of a healthy person. At Discovery Place, we rarely see opiate addicts in their 40s and 50s. For those with opiate addiction, the only viable option is sobriety.