It is often claimed that dependence on alcohol and drugs is a family disease. This refers to the fact that the addiction impacts more than just the individual addict. Their family and friends of this person are also likely to suffer because of the behavior. Those who are dependent on the addict will be deeply affected – it is often children who suffer the most. The strain of addiction on a family can be devastating, and it leads to a great deal of dysfunction as the members of this unit attempt to compensate. Spouses may work hard to hide the addiction, and will devote much their time and energy to protecting the addict from the full consequences of the bad behavior. Children will be expected to act like grownups and take on responsibilities that they should never be burdened with.
When an addict becomes willing to enter recovery it is a marvelous thing. If they follow through with this ambition they will be able to rebuild their life. Family members are likely to be overjoyed with the idea of a new start, but there can also be a great deal of fear about the future. These individuals will have adapted to the chaos, and this is what they are used to. If they are not supported in this change it can be a real struggle for them. The problem is that when people enter recovery they are usually offered plenty of support and guidance but such resources might not be available to family members who will also be struggling with the changes. This lack of attention to these other people who have been impacted by the addiction can be problematic – it can mean that the family continues to behave in a dysfunctional manner even after their loved one has become sober.
Addiction has a significant impact on the family and the damage can include the following:
* It is common for partners to be codependent so that their life revolves around the addict’s behavior. This type of unhealthy love can lead to a situation where the individual is addicted to the chaos and they end up enabling the addict.
* Children of addicts tend to perform badly at school. This may mean that their career choices in adulthood will be limited as a result.
* Children can develop the impression that substance abuse is normal. There is a great risk that they will experiment with alcohol or drugs at a young age and many will follow their parents into addiction.
* Children of addicts are far more likely to have mental health problems.
* There is a close association between domestic violence and substance abuse – although addiction should never be viewed as a means to excuse or rationalize such abuse.
* There is also a strong association between addiction and child abuse.
* Addiction will often lead to the breakup of relationships. This will often mean that the family will be missing a parent.
* Substance abuse can lead to financial hardship for the rest of the family.
* Children of addicts will tend to miss out on a normal childhood. They will usually be expected to take on adult responsibilities and be forced to deal with things that even grownups would struggle with.
* Family members may be too ashamed to bring friends back to the house. They will be worried about how the addict will behave around the visitor.
* The family members will usually suffer from a great deal of embarrassment and guilt because of the addict’s behavior.
* They will usually devote a great deal of time to hiding the addict’s behavior. This often means that family members feel isolated.
* Children can be born with birth defects because their mother abused alcohol or drugs during the pregnancy.
* Family members can live in fear of the addict’s moods. This individual may be capable of moving from affection to physical violence in a matter of seconds – the unpredictability can mean that family members are always on edge.
Family recovery refers to the process by which this unit returns to proper functioning following addiction. Although in most instances only one member of the family will have been a substance abuser it will have likely impacted everybody. Family recovery is said to pass through a number of key stages which include:
* In the first stage the family member will still be abusing alcohol or drugs.
* In the second stage there will be the transition from substance abuse to sobriety.
* Early recovery is the third stage – this can be a difficult time for the family as everyone adjusts to the new situation.
* The final stage is on-going recovery. By this time the family will usually have adapted to the new conditions.
Family recovery can begin when the individual enters an inpatient (or outpatient) program. There are some rehabs that put a great deal of emphasis on family recovery, and they may even offer assistance to other members of the family including:
* Educational information about addiction and recovery. This will mean that they will have a better understanding of what has happened to their loved one and what they can expect in the future.
* They will usually be given regular updates about the progress of the family member during rehab.
* They will learn new skills that will facilitate effective communication within the family. A huge problem for people when they become sober is that they struggle to communicate with their loved ones – and vice versa.
* They will be fully involved in the transition process when the individual moves from rehab to home.
The involvement of family members in the recovery attempts of the addict can make a difference because:
* It is often because of the urging of family members that the individual will finally decide to seek treatment.
* Most addicts will hit low points where they become more receptive to the idea of sobriety. Family members can support this motivation by encouraging their loved one to seek help before they slip back into denial.
* Each member of the family is likely to have been negatively impacted by the addiction so they will benefit from participation in the recovery process. In fact their failure to participate could mean that the addict is getting better while the family continues to be dysfunctional.
* The individual is responsible for making a success of their recovery but having the support of family members can make a difference to them.
Even if the addict does not agree to end their addiction there are things that the family can do to recover from the destruction. In some instances this may involve disengaging from the substance abuser until they agree to get help. In order to recovery the family can:
* It is vital that family members stop denying that there is a problem. So long as they refuse to admit that there is a problem it will be difficult for them to fix it.
* Family members need to put more focus on their own needs. It is up to the addict to take responsibility for their situation.
* Connect with other people who understand the problem. Groups like Al-Anon and Alateen can be particularly good for helping family members come to terms with the addiction and cope with it – they can also help family members adjust when the addict enters recovery.
* It is often suggested that family members stop protecting the addict from the consequences of their behavior. This type of enabling might actually be prolonging the problem.
* The focus for grownups in a family should be to protect the children. Looking after them has to take priority over the addict’s needs, and it is unwise just to assume that they are coping.
* Family members may need to rely on tough love – this means that they treat the addict in a harsh way out of love. For example, this may involve breaking off all contact with the substance abuser until they agree to get help.
* The correct information about addiction can be a help to family members because it will give them a better understanding of their situation and what they should do. It is important to stick to reputable sources when seeking out this information, and to understand that there are different approaches to addiction treatment.
* Communicating with an addict can be frustrating and even when this person gets sober it may seem like they are speaking a different language sometimes. Family members can learn new skills to improve communication, and this will be a great help going forward.
* The addict is likely to be strongly resistant to any suggesting that they enter rehab or try other recovery options. There will be time when their resistance will weaken, usually after they have behaved particularly badly, and this can be a good time to suggest getting help.