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.
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