Swamp Water Jurisprudence: Deliver us from enablers


If you wonder why that unemployed uncle of yours seems to be drunk most of the time and that cousin of yours keeps doing drugs without visible means of support, there are simple answers.

The late famous psychiatrist, Dr. Karl Menninger (1893-1990), said there are only four ways you can survive in our world and they are: to work, live off others, steal or deal.


Often in court we would see an unemployed offender who was addicted to drugs or alcohol and we would ask who his or her enabler was. This was a word most didn’t understand, so we had to explain.

According to Psych Central, “This term is used when loved ones with enabler personalities cover or bail out drug addicts, alcoholics, gamblers and compulsive eaters.”

Usually we didn’t have to look very far. A “loved one” was usually a parent, spouse, or friend, and sometimes the governments were the culprits. If there were no apparent enablers then we knew there were only two other ways left to survive: steal or deal, (drugs, stolen goods, prostitution) and those get them in trouble with the law.

Drug addicts often have several sources, such as girlfriends or boyfriends, parents, grandmother, buddies, etc. They pool their money, make a buy from a dealer, divide the drugs in two; sell half for twice their cost, and use the balance to maintain their addiction. However, there is risk in selling on the street, and that’s when they get in trouble with the law. Also, owing drug dealers who have debt enforcers can be hazardous to their health.

Alcoholics don’t have to deal with illegality. There are usually two types of alcoholics: home drinkers and social tavern drinkers. Alcoholics are usually employed, but a large portion of their income goes to alcohol. If they are single, they usually harm only themselves; if they have a family, their dependents are often deprived of basic needs unless there is an employed spouse to contribute, which often is the case and thus the spouse keeps the family together — and becomes the enabler.

If you are an enabler you must simply quit being one. You are killing that person with kindness. Now read that sentence again — it’s important. An “enabler personality” is one who demonstrates love, kindness and empathy for others. Addicts seek to take advantage of these kinds of people. When enablers refuse to give, loan, or allow chemical dependents to live off their benevolence, the addict may respond by making them feel guilty, try to embarrass or even threaten them. Here is where “tough love” comes in. It’s not easy but it must be done.

As Al-Anon programs say to enablers, “You didn’t cause it, you can’t cure it and you can’t control it.” An addict, on alcohol or drugs, cannot be punished or loved into recovery. The addicted person must want to change, and only then will there be potential for recovery. Drug courts are based upon this premise, plus the realization that addicts, even with the best of intentions, will sometimes relapse. Two steps forward … one step back … followed with consequences by the court … and back on the treatment program.

There is a common myth among alcoholics that as long as they never miss work they’re not an alcoholic. The commonly true rule is whether their drinking has become the center of their social life, where they only want to attend events where drinking is involved.

There are addicts and alcoholics who simply don’t want to change. Their addiction has become their comfort zone. Sobriety and being clean become unnatural for them; to recover they must establish new friends and activities that are no longer centered on drugs or alcohol.

The governments, state and federal, can become enablers. Disability payments, Social Security, some welfare, and pensions are reliable regular sources to enable chemical dependency. Now, these are not personal enablers who can be constrained from distributing their clients’ entitlements. But courts, families and counselors must be aware of them, and understand the consequences.

Some cities have set up hard core alcoholics who do not want to change with housing, meals, and all the alcohol they care to consume. It’s obviously controversial. It’s an economic decision where the city decides to quit expending taxpayer money on picking them up off the streets, doorways, and snow banks, and transporting them to medical emergency clinics, and paying the expensive bills that follow.

Locally, we’ve had multiple DWI offenders who have served jail sentences, but continue to drink and drive, and refuse to change. One agreed to sell his car and move to an apartment above his favorite tavern. Another agreed to live on a bus route that carried him to the downtown taverns. Another couple went out to drink every night and would get into loud domestic quarrels, disturbing other patrons. We solved the problem by awarding her the bars east of Center Street and he got those west. Neither of these offenders stopped drinking, but they stayed out of trouble with the police. It was a compromise for public safety, peace, and quiet.


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