Addiction is a very unique, complicated disease. It can develop in virtually anyone no matter their age, gender, religion, sexual orientation, location, or political proclivities. Moreover, the disease can occur due to many different circumstances, including social and environmental, developmental, biological and genetic, and so on. In effect, the disease of addiction is an indiscriminate affliction that has robbed millions of good, honest people of their potential and promise, causing them to be compulsive drug-seekers who live their lives in constant fear of withdrawal.
While we often think of the effects of addiction on those who develop the addictions, one of the traits that make addiction so unique is that the disease can affect those individuals in an addict’s life nearly as much as the actual addict. In particular, the disease of addiction can ravage an addict’s family, especially when those family members live in the same household. The loved ones of addicts must often recover from the disease of addiction alongside the addict, making rehabilitation a journey for the entire family. As such, the following will explain how addiction affects the family unit and how an addict’s loved ones can recovery from the effects of the addict’s addiction.
Addiction: The Family Disease
The extent of suffering that addiction causes an addict’s family and loved ones are so well-known that addiction is frequently called “the family disease,” which is even a phrase used by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. When a member of a family develops an addiction, the entire family is put under mass amounts of stress. In the early stages of an addict’s addiction, the family may not be fully aware of what is happening, but it doesn’t take long for loved ones to realize that the addict’s behavior and demeanor have changed. As part of the addiction, the addict will often begin lying to his or her family in order to hide the substance abuse or chemical dependency. The result of this dishonesty is increasing mistrust between the addict and members of his or her family, which has the effect of putting a lot of strain on their relationships.
As the addict’s addiction progresses, he or she often begins to manipulate family members. This can occur either when the addict becomes desperate and needs to use family members to obtain his or her substance of choice. Alternately, this manipulation can occur when the addict is denying accusations and wants to distance himself or herself from suspicion. Over time, the dishonesty and manipulation accumulate, often resulting in grudges, animosity, and fractures in relationships as the family becomes increasingly consumed by the addict’s substance abuse and resultant behaviors. Each family member begins holding onto a lot of pain that can’t get resolved before another incident causes more pain. In effect, a family member’s addiction can cause a downward spiral for the entire family unit, jeopardizing each member’s mental and physical health, the family’s financial security, and the overall family dynamic and unity. If the family members aren’t able to address this pain and begin the healing process, the damage could potentially reach a point of being irreparable.
The Importance of Addiction Education
When the addict accepts the offer of help by enrolling in addiction treatment, the family can likewise begin a recovery process. For a family that has been ravaged by addiction, one of the first steps on the path of healing is to become thoroughly knowledgeable about addiction and recovery. Oftentimes the only knowledge that family members will have about addiction will be their own experiences, which means that they don’t usually understand why an addict behaves the way that he or she does. As such, becoming knowledgeable about addiction is a family’s first step toward a state of greater understanding and empathy.
In particular, a family must learn about some of the factors that cause people to become substance abusers and addicts, including the experience of mental or physical pain, the influence of peer groups, and a family history of irresponsible substance use. In effect, this knowledge will help family members to feel less violated and to feel less like the addict’s behaviors were a personal affront against them. Additionally, learning more about addiction will enlighten family members about the addict’s mentality, the state of desperation, the hopelessness and anxiety, the self-deprecation, the guilt and shame, and so on. A common misconception is that individuals become addicts as a result of self-indulgent hedonism, but addiction education will help family members to see addicts more as individuals who suffer from a mental and physical disease. This addiction education will also give them an idea of what to expect at varying stages of the addict’s recovery and how they can help, including how to ensure that they aren’t enablers.
Repairing & Restoring Relationships in the Family Unit
After the family unit has experienced a period of emotional disconnection and dysfunction as a result of a member’s addiction, the family benefits greatly from family therapy as part of the addict’s substance abuse treatment. Many effective addiction treatment programs offer family therapy sessions for those individuals whose families had a front-row seat for their struggles with addiction, affording them with a means of repairing the damage that the disease has caused them. Having become knowledgeable about addiction and developed a greater sense of empathy and understanding of the addict, the family learn how to re-establish their communication with the help of an experienced, professional family therapist. In effect, the family therapy sessions are a forum that allows the family members to develop a health, respectful rapport with one another as well as to determine how the family can more forward with the recovery process together.
Regain Independence & Health with the Palm Beach Institute
As a family disease, addiction has many effects on those who are closest to the addict. Fortunately, there are resources for both the addict himself or herself as well as the addict’s family. If you or someone you love would benefit from learning more about family recovery or other forms of addiction treatment, the Palm Beach Institute is here to help. Call today for a free consultation and assessment. Don’t let addiction continue to keep you or your loved one in chains; begin the healing journey now.