Addiction is a complex and progressive disease that slowly robs the addict of their physical, emotional and psychological well-being. While the devastating effects of addiction on the addict is well-documented, it only paints half the overall picture. In order to fully grasp the overall effects of an individual’s addiction, you also need to take into account the effects of addiction on family members. The actions and behaviors of a loved one who is addicted to drugs and alcohol has significant impacts on their family and causes severe dysfunction both in the ways they cope with the addict in the family as well as how family members interact with one another.
Families Who Deal With Addiction: The Emotional Tug-of-War
When families try to cope with a loved one who is struggling with substance abuse, they experience a strong internal tug-of-war that can strain the strongest bonds. On one hand, the family understands their loved one is not intentionally trying to hurt them and want to provide the addict with love, encouragement and support. On the other hand, the lies, manipulation and abuse that the addict throws at them on a daily basis causes great pain and that pain is directed towards the addict and towards each other. When families try to wrestle with these opposing emotions, the whole family unit suffers and may cause emotional damage that possibly will never heal without the help of counseling and therapy.
The Common Emotions Families Feel towards a Loved One Who is Addicted to Substances
One common effect of addiction on family members is the phenomenon of enabling. The definition of enabling are the behaviors a family exhibits in an attempt to help their loved one out of tough situations. While a family may feel that helping their loved one pay their rent or utilities or covering for them when they act inappropriately is the right thing to do, these behaviors allow the addict to continue their destructive lifestyle. Family members will often engage in enabling behaviors because they may feel guilty about a loved one’s addiction and they somehow feel responsible and want to make things right.
Another common effect of addiction on family members are feelings of hurt, anger and resentment. While enabling behaviors are well-intentioned, some family members will eventually see the underlying motives of their addicted loved ones and can grow to resent them for using them or those family members who do not see what they see. This is especially true when an addict lies or steals from the family. These rifts can still remain even after the addict enters treatment and has substantial clean time.
The Ways Addiction Impacts the Family Unit
As the family attempts to cope with the addiction within the family, cracks begin to appear within the family unit itself. A third and often forgotten effect of addiction on family is the relationships between family members. The following are some common examples of the family problems that can arise when a loved one is addicted to drugs and alcohol:
With the attention focused on the loved one who is addicted to drugs and alcohol, there may be members of the family (and especially younger family members) who may feel jealous that the addicted person is getting the spotlight. This can cause resentments among family members.
Families can experience significant money issues in regards to helping their loved one with their mortgage, rent, utilities, groceries and other necessities that have been neglected due to drug and alcohol use. The continued enabling of the addict financially can cause family members to make poor financial choices, which causes more tension between family members.
With the strain in trying to deal with and cope with a loved one who is addicted to substances, family members may lash out at each other and they may engage in the same behaviors that the addict is engaging in such as manipulation, lying and stealing.
The guilt that is associated with addiction can be all-consuming for family members. With the attention and focus on their needs, the basic and emotional needs of the family are often neglected. As a result, family members can experience the onset of anxiety and depression as well as physical ailments due to the lack of proper nutrition, exercise and poor hygiene.
The Role of Family Addiction Counseling in Restoring Balance and Harmony
The connections that exist between family and addiction are multifaceted, and in order for the addict to fully and completely recover from addiction, the whole family must be involved in the drug treatment process. Addiction is seen as a family disease and family-based therapy provides the resources and support that is needed for the entire family unit to address the underlying causes of addiction and restore balance and harmony.
Family addiction counseling and family therapy benefits the addict and their family and helps them find their common strengths and find ways to live without drug and alcohol addiction. Both the family and the addict will also understand the entire process of recovery, from medical detoxification and drug treatment to aftercare and continued support through the help of 12-Step based groups such as AA, NA, and Alanon. If there have been past links between family and alcoholism and drug abuse, those can be addressed and those underlying causes can be worked through so that the family can experience the same fresh start as the addict.
Most importantly, involving the family in the drug treatment process allows them to fully express their needs and wants in a safe environment. With the encouragement and support they receive, the family feels empowered to effectively communicate with those who are addicted and understand their individual roles in the recovery process. As a result, the entire family is able to heal and grow together and create an environment which is based on healthy interaction, communication and understanding of each family member.