Recent research into the treatment of addiction points to the fact that as addiction is a disease that affects the whole family, the whole family should be included in treatment. The success of family programmes in addiction treatment is evidence of this.
Alcohol and drug abuse not only harms the addict, but it can destroy relationships and also create emotional turmoil for family members and loved ones as they witness and experience a family member’s alcoholism or drug dependence.
Addiction is often referred to as a family disease and addiction treatment is ideally a family affair. Along with the addict, family members need and deserve help and support to overcome the negative effects of alcohol and drug abuse.
Effects of Alcohol and Drug Abuse on the Family
Different family systems will experience different effects from a loved one’s substance abuse disorder, but here are some of the most common ways drug and alcohol abuse affects the family of an addict.
- Instability within the family system.
People suffering from addiction are often unreliable and cannot be counted on to do what they say. Other family members are left to pick up the slack when the addict does not attend to his or her responsibilities. This causes conflict and instability within families, as family members are continuously let down or can never predict the addict’s behaviour.
- Mistrust, lying and stealing.
Once addiction has taken hold people may turn to lying and stealing to hide and support their drug abuse. This behaviour, of course, creates resentment, mistrust, and turmoil within relationships in the family.
- Financial distress.
Alcohol and drug abuse can lead to problems at work, including decreased productivity, missed work and job loss. Addiction creates a financial burden that may cause families to lose their home, or have difficulty providing basic needs such as food and healthcare for their children. The addict may rely on financial support from other family members which further strains relationships.
- Conflict amongst family members.
Addiction can lead to negativism, where all the communication taking place amongst the addict and family members is negative. Anger and resentment can cause family members to lash out at one another. Complaints, criticism, and put-downs may become the norm which leaves everyone in the situation feeling bad.
- Shame and denial.
When one member experiences addiction, often the whole family will suffer from shame and denial. Families may work hard to hide the consequences of addiction and develop elaborate systems of denial that there is any problem at all. Deep feelings of shame may lead other family members to also abuse substances as a way to cope.
Effects of Parental Drug Abuse on Children
Alcohol and drug abuse negatively impacts everyone in the family, but too often children and adolescents are most affected by the addiction of a parent.
- Children may experience neglect and abuse.
In America, 40-80% of all child abuse cases are within families where alcohol and drug abuse are also present. As well, parents with a substance abuse problem will often put their addiction first, leaving their children to fend for themselves, leading to cases of neglect of varied severity.
- Parental inconsistency.
Even if severe neglect and abuse are not present, alcohol and drug addiction can lead to inconsistent parenting, including erratic rules and inconsistent consequences. In these situations, children may experience confusion about what is right and wrong, as they receive mixed signals from parents about acceptable behaviour.
- Children take on adult roles.
When parents suffer from addiction, their children often end up taking on parental roles. Especially older children in the family may take on responsibility well past what is expected of other children their age by looking after siblings, cooking, cleaning, and even providing emotional support to the addicted parent.
- Emotional instability and behaviour problems.
Growing up with parents who abuse drugs and alcohol creates an environment of chaos and instability. Children from homes where one or both parents are struggling with addiction can experience shame, guilt, confusion, fear, and insecurity as their emotional development is not nurtured or made a priority within the family.
Codependency and Addiction
Alcohol and drug abuse affects intimate relationships in specific ways, often with one or both partners exhibiting signs of codependency. Codependency was first observed in partners of alcoholics who were not alcoholics themselves.
Codependency refers to a pattern in relationships where one person puts the needs of the other in front of their own. When addiction is present, the addict’s partner may fall into the role of caretaker and display symptoms of codependency. When this relationship pattern is present both individuals suffer and both often need treatment in order to get better.
The following are a few symptoms of codependency and ways in which addiction affects those closest to the addict.
- Low self-esteem stemming from feelings of shame, guilt and inadequacy.
Often spouses will try hard to be perfect and please their partner, under the false belief that if only they were good enough their partner would stop using.
- Controlling behaviour.
Codependents may believe others cannot take care of themselves which leads them to exhibit controlling behaviour in all situations.
- Become dependent on the approval of others.
Codependent partners may forfeit their own values in order to avoid rejection and anger and please others. Their self-worth may be based solely on the approval of others which leads to excessive people pleasing.
- Obsessively think about other people to the point of neglecting one’s own needs.
They may believe they are being selfless in their desire to care for the needs of the addict, but this behaviour is enabling and detrimental to both people in the codependent relationship.
Including the Family in Addiction Treatment
Drug or alcohol rehab is the first step to addiction recovery, and as the disease affects the whole family it is best if the whole family is involved in the recovery process as well.
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