Enabling vs. Helping
My simple definition of enabling is when we do for others what they can – and indeed should – be doing for themselves. In my view, what’s happening on some of these worksites is enabling at its worst. At a deeper level, addicts know exactly what they’re doing – they know they’re crippling their own lives and continually hurting the people who love them. Show me an addict who doesn’t know that they now risk dying every time they use because of the toxic supply, and I’ll show you someone who truly perfected the art of denial. But they use anyway, even while knowing that they are potentially endangering themselves.
The questions we really need to be asking ourselves are “WHY do they continue to incapacitate themselves in this way? What is really going on for them, underneath their choice to use these substances and behaviours?”
The way I look at it is that we all have the right to do with our own lives whatever we like, as long as we aren’t hurting anyone else. But because there are family members who love these addicts dearly – and co-workers who will be traumatized by their potential death as a result of making the choice to use, again and again – they will of course bring immeasurable damage to the people around them. And if it’s you, me, or someone we know who is tasked with delivering Narcan into their systems, that could jeopardize us too in a variety of ways.
In fact, some of us may never get over it.
An Alternative Solution
I would like to propose an alternative way of looking at this bewildering issue. The following are some of my strong win-win suggestions:
- Let’s start talking about addiction honestly, with those who are addicted and with each other. One of the ways we can help addicts the most is to stop telling them that they are powerless over their addiction – because they’re not. When we hold people who abuse mind-altering substances accountable for their own choices and encourage them to make better decisions, they have much more of a chance of long-term recovery.
In reality, I have often found that people who are struggling with addiction actually feel even more loved and cared for when we have the courage to say, “We care about you so much that we don’t want to support you in active addiction any longer. We want to help you put your life back together, so we are totally willing to support your recovery.”
- Let’s implement addictions training for leaders, as well as HR professionals and Safety professionals who feel they may need additional training to prepare them for dealing more effectively and confidently with addiction in the workplace.
- It is important to implement appropriate, respectful boundaries, asserting that workers on any job site are not to come to work high or drunk – and they are not to use mind-altering substances while at work. No more going on a break and smoking a joint, no more popping a few pills, guzzling some vodka or chewing on a laced gummy. If we think someone might be high or drunk at work – thus making the whole environment less safe for all involved – they will be subject to random urine testing for a determined number of weeks or months.
It will be essential to note that this will happen not as a punishment for the addict, but rather as a reasonable consequence of choosing to show up at work impaired and making everyone else’s life hell.
- Let’s ensure that our workplaces and the workplace culture are such that employees feel safe to bring forth concerns they may have about a co-worker who may be abusing substances on the job.
- Let’s review policies and procedures and, if appropriate, workers who test positive for substances while on the job will be suspended for cause. To best support employees who have addiction problems, organizations can let them know they can come back after successfully completing a rehab program that could be paid for, at least in part, by their company. If they choose not to complete the treatment, or decide to relapse afterward while at work, they will lose their job immediately. I have seen first-hand what a motivating influence this can be for workers to choose to enter recovery.
- If a worker is so compromised from substance abuse that Narcan is required to save their life, they will have the same option to either go to a treatment program or lose their job. To ensure that no one will have naloxone administered more than once at the workplace, they will understand that they need to either go to rehab or be off the job.
- Employers who provide Narcan in the workplace should ensure that there are one or two trained first responders available at each construction site, whose actual job it is to administer Narcan as needed so that co-workers don’t have to be the ones to do it.
Additionally, it is essential for people who have administered Narcan to be supported emotionally. This could include providing critical incident stress debriefing and/or counselling for those workers who administered the Narcan and any who may have witnessed this.
- When impaired workers agree to take responsibility for their own choices, have successfully completed a rehab program and are back on the job, they have the option of ongoing outpatient counselling to help them continue to navigate the transition back into ‘real life’ without the use of mind-altering, life-threatening substances.
- When there is addiction in a family, everyone is affected and everyone needs to heal. When addicts return from treatment with a deeper understanding of themselves and new coping strategies, the chance of relapse will be much higher if their family hasn’t received help as well. For this reason, the loved ones of these addicts need to be offered specialized counselling as well, with skilled addiction counsellors – and this therapy could, at least in part, be subsidized by the workplace, wherever possible.
The Truth about Addiction
There are 2 major truths about addiction: a) It is progressive, and b) It is only ever a symptom of something deeper. We need to help people who are still in active addiction begin to understand WHY they feel such a strong need to continually hurt themselves and the people who love them. If they don’t do that vitally important inner work, they will keep using – and they will progressively need more and more of the substance to get the same high. As a result, we will continue to bear witness – in horror and confusion – as they take more risks and put others in jeopardy without even a second thought. If we as a society keep tolerating this, and if we ask or require other people to put themselves at risk to try to save them, we are unwittingly enabling the addicts we love – and we are essentially keeping the overdose crisis going.
Enabling is never a loving act, because all it does is keep the addict stuck in addiction.
Here is another truth about addiction: An enabled addict does not recover because really – why should they?
Addiction CAN be stopped! Millions of people all over the globe, myself included, have made the choice to stop using. For far too many years, addiction has been ruining far too many lives – including the lives of the people who care about them – who have been watching on the sidelines in grief and despair, feeling powerless as those they love continue to sabotage themselves on a regular basis.
Change can happen when, instead of enabling, we learn how to truly HELP addicts instead.
Because here’s the deal: The longer that this issue goes unaddressed in the workplace, two things will be true:
- This whole overdose epidemic will continue to go on and on,
- With each passing day, the addicts we love will run an even greater risk of dying.
None of us want that to happen.
We need to stop loving our addicts to death by enabling, and instead start loving them to life – with clear, consistent, respectful boundaries and consequences that will mean something to them. Let’s try challenging them to live different lives, instead of leading the same self-destructive lives that too many of them have been living for too many years.
We need to have the courage to care enough about these struggling addicts to do what’s right for them, even when that might feel uncomfortable for us.
We need to stop whatever enabling we might be doing so that the addicts we love can have a fighting chance of recovering.