July 12, 2012

Supporting vs. enabling, a fading line

Virgil Tapispisan
Drug Demand Reduction Program Coodinator

When is supporting and enabling the same?

Growing up in the Philippines, I remember my mother providing me with the money so I could pursue my educational goals and pay for tuition expenses. I was not asked to look for employment to do it on my own. In my mind, my mother helped me to attend college. A professor I had in college, through her kindness and support, inspired me to pursue a degree in psychology and use the knowledge to help others. That said, these are both examples of positive enablers who supported me in gaining my education and living a happier, more productive life – there was no line drawn between supporting and enabling, the two concepts were virtually the same.

When is supporting and enabling not the same?

In the world of self-help and modern psychology, a distinct line is drawn between supporting and enabling. If your spouse is simply providing you with the means to purchase drugs or alcohol, the spouse would be considered an enabler, or ‘enabling a destructive behavior’. Often, families and friends try to ‘help’ those who have substance abuse problems in an attempt to ‘keep the peace’ within the family or avoid conflict with the person struggling with substance abuse. These measures allow the person with an addiction problem to avoid the consequences of their actions. They would continue with their addictive behavior knowing that no matter how they mess up, somebody will be there to rescue them from their mistakes.

If the spouse acknowledges that his/her spouse has a problem and suggests counseling, the spouse would be seen as a supporter. In this instance, the difference between an enabler and a supporter is very clear. Enabling, is doing for someone something that they should be doing themselves, while supporting is doing something for someone that they are not able to do themselves.

Consider the following instances: supporting or enabling?

  • Assign a Designated Driver for a night of drinking.  While it appears to be a practical means and an ethical way in providing transportation to those who are permitted to drink, it avoids drunk driving and ultimately saves lives.  It could also appear to give permission to get drunk knowing that the driver will drive the person back to their place of residence.
  • Parents providing alcohol to their children saying, “I’d rather have my kids drink at home than drinking and driving.” Most parents would agree that it’s an occasion and an opportunity to start a dialogue with their teenagers about alcohol, substance abuse and the dangers of drinking and driving.  To some parents; however, providing alcohol at home is an unhealthy approach to take because of the long-term consequences of underage drinking. They view the  notion that “their kids will be drinking somewhere, so why not have it at home” as a cowardly attitude, and have already lost the battle with their children.

Now, what do you think of the following situations:

  • Ask a Marine to seek help after you observe his/her heavy drinking episodes.
  • Staff Noncommissioned Officer providing alcohol in a BBQ at his house: “At least I can keep an eye on my Marines.”

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