It is an interesting exercise for anyone to do. Identify those 4 or 5 people who you are closest to and then describe the quality of the relationship that you have with them. Are they good quality relationships and what are the psychological agendas underneath the surface?
This raises another question. How do you relate to a problem drug user (or really anybody who is doing self destructive behaviour)? Much has been written about this over the years and there are a number of possibilities. Is it possible to relate to a habitual drug user and not encourage them to use simply by the way you relate to them?
In a problem drug users life there can be a number of different people.
Other drug users
First there are the other drug users. Most people who use drugs in a problem way will have relationships with others who also use drugs. Often the persons drug supplier is a drug user as well but most will have peers who they use drugs with on a regular basis. They use together, talk about using and also talk about things like drug availability, scoring, cost and so forth.
This type of relationship is very supportive of the persons problem drug use. Much has been written and said about this relationship and what one can do about it. It is often a major problem for the person who is wanting to stop using. Often stopping using means one must terminate the relationship they have with their fellow drug users and as we know ending a relationship with a strong attachment can be a very difficult thing to do. This is particularly so if you have a married couple who have children and they are both problem drug users. Sometimes realistically the person has to get a divorce and leave the relationship if they are to stop using long term. Obviously this is a very difficult thing to do.
Another relationship in the drug users life that has had a great deal said about it are the enablers or co-dependents as they are sometimes called. Those people who relate to the problem drug user and in some way seek to ‘help’ them. Often a partner to the drug user is this person and they can either be the critic, a rescuer or they switch between both.
They may at times actively criticise and berate the user for their drug use. Others may look after the user by cleaning up their vomit or picking them up late at night from a bar and making sure they get safely home. Some can even provide financial support when they know at least some of the money will be spent on drugs.
The enabler relationship does precisely that - it enables. It creates a relationship that supports the drug use. Consider these two examples. In many of these relationships the drug user becomes like the naughty little child who is being irresponsible by getting stoned or drunk. On the other hand the enabler or co-dependent becomes the parent in the relationship who either tells off or rescues the user. The more such a relationship pattern becomes the norm the more likely the user will continue to be irresponsible and use.
If the critic part is particularly active in the enabler this will assist the user to feel worse about self and lower their already low self esteem. Hence the drug use is likely to continue. Or the user may initially agree with the critic and chastise self. However if this happens it is very likely that at a later time the person will get angry at being told of by the ‘parent figure’ and switch into rebellion and go on a bender or the drug use goes under ground and is hidden from the other.
The bystander is that person who maintains a relationship with the drug user, does not use them self and does not become a critic or rescuer. They in essence do nothing. They stand bye and simply observe. This can be a non drug using peer or perhaps relative or partner. By doing this the person is giving tacit support to the drug use. By doing nothing and remaining in the relationship one is saying that I accept you and what you are doing at least to the extent of not ending the relationship or taking some other decisive action. The bystander is passively sanctioning in the drug use by the other.
In one way it could be argued that the drug counsellor takes the bystander role with the drug user and thus gives passive support for the drug use. If you discover that someone is using drugs and find that reprehensible then one can take decisive action such as going and beating up the drug dealer, staying by the persons side 24 hours a day to stop them taking drugs, contacting the police or telling them what you think and ending the relationship.
The drug counsellor does none of these things (well at least most drug counsellors do not). Actions speak much louder than words. The drug counsellor may say many things to the user about the disadvantages of drug use, self destructive behaviour and so forth but they do not take any decisive action as I have described above. What does that say to the drug user?
If you had a friend who you discovered was having ongoing sexual contact with children and was not going to stop, what would you do? I think that most people would terminate the relationship at least. That behaviour is a decisive act that communicates to the other party that the behaviour is unacceptable and they are not prepared to remain in contact with the person.
But the drug counsellor does not do that with the drug user. Instead the drug counsellor says by his actions to the drug user, “I will stand bye while you use drugs”. This to some degree gives support for the persons ongoing drug use.
Finally we have those who some how get psychological gain in their own Child ego state by the other person using drugs. For instance this can happen when the drug use is a ‘leaving home’ problem. When a child reaches the age where it is time to leave home sometimes they will suddenly develop some kind of problem. That maybe anorexia, a significant mental illness, suicidal behaviour or drug use. This can happen in emeshed family structures who find it very difficult to allow one party to leave. By developing such a problem the child is stopped from leaving home. At least some of the other family members are supporting the drug use by maintaining the emeshed family structure in what ever way they do that.
Then there is the concept of the ‘Hot potatoe’. Some parents can avoid their own self destructive urges by passing them onto others with children being a convenient receptacle.
Finally there is the idea of Munchausen syndrome by proxy. Some parents, siblings or partners can gain considerable strokes, community compassion, be seen as a martyr and so forth if they are ‘looking after’ a habitual drug user or drunk. Thus we have a derivation of Munchausen syndrome by proxy where the other party is supportive of the problem drug users use for their own personal gain.