Addiction is a progressive, chronic illness that affects every member of a family when it strikes.With the destructive force of a tidal wave, a substance use problem or a compulsive behavior can cause unimaginable damage to an entire family or friend group, straining relationships and impeding communication. Addiction treatment that involves some type of family counseling can help break old patterns and create lasting healing.
Why Is Addiction a Family Disease?
The presence of an illness in one person will affect an entire family unit, friend group, or business. This is especially true when it comes to addiction. In fact, addiction is often referred to as “the family disease”1 due to the extreme consequences that an individual’s substance abuse problem has on his or her family. Substance use often wreaks havoc on the family dynamic and strains each family member’s mental and emotional well-being.
When a family member misuses drugs or alcohol, the family’s routine and closeness are quickly interrupted, resulting in growing stress levels. As addiction takes over, it will become more difficult to hide. The addicted family member might be questioned about irregular behavior, and he or she will often respond with dishonesty or anger.
Over time, these issues impact family dynamics, which leads to miscommunication, resentment, and hopelessness. At a certain point, it becomes difficult for a family to find their way back to a state of peace, understanding, respect, and love without help.
Codependency: When Helping Actually Hurts
Codependency is common in families affected by substance abuse.2 Codependency begins when relationships get “off-balance”, and one or more family members try to take care of the addicted person, make excuses for poor behavior, hide the addiction from the outside world, or “save” the addicted family member in unhelpful ways.
When an addict and a loved one are codependent, the loved one frequently enables the addictive behavior. Codependency can sap a well-meaning family member of their physical, mental, emotional and even financial resources.Addicted people who are in codependent relationships become less independent, they may manipulate their loved ones, and they may lie to their loved ones.
Sometimes, family members are aware that they are enabling unhealthy behaviors, but don’t know how to stop or are afraid to stop the codependent behavior. In other situations, family members may not be aware that they have enabled their loved one, and they may not be sure how to change the situation.
It can be difficult to stop enabling a loved one if you are afraid that he or she will lash out in anger, abandon you, or go elsewhere to engage in dangerous behavior. Unfortunately, this keeps addiction alive as the loved one serves as a buffer between the addict and the many consequences of addiction.
“One of the biggest changes in our lives has been the repairing of relationships within our family,” says Katie D., at HeroesInRecovery. “When I finally reached out for help and admitted to myself that I, too, am powerless over this disease, I became much stronger, learned how to set boundaries and learned clearly that what I had been doing was not working and now I need to work on me.”
Families Can Heal from Addiction in Family Recovery Programs
In many cases, family members, friends and other loved ones are involved in an individual’s choice to begin a treatment program after staging an intervention. Family counseling often involves healing for all family members together, and addiction family programs combine family counseling while focusing on the addiction recovery for the whole family.
Family recovery programs compliment residential rehab to focus primarily on addiction treatment and recovery goals. Another unique feature of family recovery is that it examines the relationships the entire family has with addiction and the addicted person.1 This creates a healthy space for all family members to overcome codependency and find healing.
Because the entire family is impacted by an addiction, the entire family may need to learn new coping skills.3 Family support can be an asset to addiction recovery, but it’s essential that loved ones become knowledgeable about addiction and learn how to help rather than hinder an addict’s recovery. Because alcoholism and drug addiction have some genetic components, helping a family learn how to promote the addicted person’s sobriety will make it less likely for the disease to appear later in the family line.
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The journey from addiction to recovery is different for everyone. Family is a central part of life for most people. Family recovery programming offers individuals a way to include their loved ones on a journey of physical, mental and emotional healing.
For more information about family substance abuse therapy or other types of treatments we offer, contact us at Black Bear Lodge. We know just how devastating the disease of addiction can be on both an individual and a family level. Call Black Bear Lodge at 706-914-2327 if you or someone you love would benefit from learning more about our comprehensive programming.
1Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Substance Abuse Treatment and Family Therapy. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 2004. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 39, Chapter 1 Substance Abuse Treatment and Family Therapy. Web. Accessed 18 Sept 2017.
2 Burn, S. Are You in a Codependent Relationship? Psychology Today. 14 Jul 2013. Web. Accessed 18 Sept 2017.
3 Gifford, S. Family Involvement is Important in Substance Abuse Treatment. Psych Central. 2016. Web. Accessed 18 Sept 2017.
Written by Dane O’Leary