Connections: David Curry
Tough Love for Addicts
David Curry is chief executive officer of The Rescue Mission in Tacoma, Wash. (See Pentecostal Evangel, Oct. 23, 2011). He spoke to Pentecostal Evangel News Editor John W. Kennedy about his recent book, First Aid for Enablers: Ten Treatments for Enablers and the Addicts They Love.
evangel: How does enabling differ from helping?
CURRY: What you see in an enabling relationship is somebody who is doing a certain behavior that normally would leave them broke or without their job. An enabler with the best of intentions decides, I don’t want that person to feel the consequences of that behavior, so I’m going to take that away.
But when you have unhealthy people caught up in addiction, with appetites that are controlling the decisions, that stepping in to soften the consequences only emboldens them. A lot of people around addicts are enabling them. They are calling the boss with excuses for being sick. They’re paying the addict’s bills.
evangel: Is embarrassment often the motivation for the Christian parent or spouse to try to “fix” an unpleasant situation?
CURRY: A lot of times enabling is done for selfish reasons. A parent may think, What will people think of me if my son or daughter is drinking?
evangel: You contend enablers who provide material assistance only extend the drug abuse, and therefore may shorten the life of their loved one.
CURRY: I only work with the harder cases. But if people are giving money to addicts, it may be for the last hit they ever take before they overdose.
evangel: So withholding assistance may seem heartless but is really compassionate because it causes the addict to assume responsibility.
CURRY: I suggest people withhold assistance from the addict until that person is ready to change. Until then, no amount of help will make them stop. Moms and dads and others need to say to the addict, “If the day comes when you are ready to get into treatment, I’ll help.” But in the meantime, withhold material support.
evangel: You maintain addicts sometimes need to be homeless or imprisoned so the pattern finally will change.
CURRY: Yes, but if people seek change early enough it doesn’t have to come to that. Spending a night in jail can be a positive outcome for a heroin addict. The loss of a job can help people get their lives back on track. A wife may need to leave to save a marriage and save a life. In life-and-death situations, short-term pain that connects consequences with behavior is positive.
evangel: You say addicts are all liars and manipulators.
CURRY: That is the nature of compulsion. It drives people to say and do anything that will get them that substance. They all cheat. They will tell one lie on top of the next if they are addicted.
evangel: Why do family members need to be united in response to addicts?
CURRY: An addict typically has more than one enabler. Dad may decide to get firm, but Mom refuses. Or Mom and Dad decide it’s gone far enough, but nobody tells Grandma, and she — or a brother or sister — will give money to the addict.
evangel: Why do parents sometimes respond to addicts with empty threats rather than by erecting healthy boundaries?
CURRY: In the moment they are dealing with their anger, disappointment and hurt, they lash out. They don’t have a healthy strategy to deal with the addict. As an alternative, parents need to get a firm resolve and make a decision that is rational and healthy, not emotional.
evangel: How can treatment programs such as Teen Challenge help?
CURRY: Teen Challenge has been a blessing. The organization sets firm, loving boundaries in a Christian context for those who have been running wild. I am an absolute fan of Teen Challenge.
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