A Family Disease: The Price That Families Pay for Addiction

Family Roles in Addiction: How the Whole Family Plays a Part in the Continuation of Addiction

Alcohol and drug addictions are damaging for everyone involved. Even just one family member struggling with substance abuse can impact the whole family and group of friends. Frequently, growing up in a household with at least one parent in addiction causes the cycle of addiction to continue over generations. Sadly, addiction is more common than ever nowadays.

In fact, many people are able to recall a memory involving addiction. Individuals who were exposed to the effects of addiction at a young age realise how difficult it can be to grow up in that kind of environment. When addiction takes over someone’s life, they tend to become increasingly violent and neglectful the more that they lose control.

In some situations, children of alcoholics may learn to hide or move out of the way when the parent is drinking in order to avoid the negative consequences that can come with binge drinking. The child must either bear the burden or follow their parents’ example.

Inconsistent parenting, a household that is far from stable, and the lack of love or support can have a damaging effect on a child. Just picture a child who has a bad day at school, only to come home to become frightened when they see empty beer bottles as soon as they open the door. These type of distressing stories are often shared in counselling sessions from people who are seeking treatment for their alcohol addiction.

Addiction has proven its potential to be a transgenerational disorder. Just one family member’s addiction can cause other addictions for the next generations until it reaches a point when someone has had enough.

Why is addiction often referred to as a family disease?

Addiction is a severe disease that affects the body and mind at the same time. A person who suffers from addiction obsesses about a certain drug or high, which is known as a craving. The cravings are often so intense that the person experiencing them eventually gives in since they cannot resist the urges. The using, seeking, manipulating and lying that accompanies addiction is often at the expense of those closest to the addict, which is why addiction is often discussed as a family disease.

Even though it is easy to put the blame on the addict, in reality, the whole family typically plays a part in the continuation of the addiction. A person who is actively addicted can be incredibly convincing and manipulative, to the point where family members tend to find it hard to say no. The lies that an addict tells happen so frequently that it can be challenging to decide when they are being truthful. For example, it is common for addicts to say they need money for groceries or rent but it is also possible that they are actually going to spend that money on drugs or alcohol.

Codependent relationships often occur with addicts and their family members. Over time, they develop an unhealthy dynamic that ends in anger and resentment among all those involved. More often than not, loved ones simply cannot fathom why the person will not stop taking drugs or drinking alcohol. It is typical for families of addicts to do things in an attempt to please them or fight for their attention, but those actions do not bring about desired results.

The only time an addict shows any regard is when something is done for their benefit, like giving them money. Since addiction can go on for years, these behaviours can have a permanent effect on the family system. The family member will keep trying to help the person suffering from addiction for years, despite constant rejection. All the energy that is spent on the addict is taken away from their other meaningful relationships.

Families of addicts deal with a huge amount of stress. They are constantly concerned about them – wondering where they are or if they are still alive. Long-term stress and anxiety can severely affect a person’s mental and physical health. It is not surprising that anxiety and depression often develop amongst families of addicts.

How is the family affected by addiction?

When a family member has an addiction, they have a condition that is capable of affecting and hurting their whole family, including parents, siblings, children, and any other people who are close to them. Addiction causes tension, arguments, miscommunication, increased stress levels and overall negativity within a family.

The unpredictable nature of an addicted family member can affect trust and cause emotional distress, anxiety and stress since that person can no longer be counted on to do what they say they will do. Abnormal and erratic behaviour, job instability, unknown whereabouts and late nights are all ways that addiction can damage a family’s foundation. The addicted person may lose focus, become forgetful or preoccupied since their mind is focused on their addiction.

Because of these things, affected family members may need to take on more responsibilities, creating more strain and a range of negative emotions, such as anger, blame, hate, resentment and fear. As trust becomes more of an issue, family members constantly feel on edge as they attempt to stay aware of the lies that the addict creates to justify or deny their actions. All in all, these situations result in a tainted and damaged family dynamic.

What are the types of roles that family members play in addiction?

Cutout paper dolls holding hands

Each member of a family plays a role to improve the way the family functions as well as maintain balance, stability and homeostasis. When addiction becomes part of this dynamic, the family roles change to adjust to the new behaviours that come with substance abuse to help them cope as a family and maintain some sort of balance. However, it usually prevents people from interacting in healthy ways in the long run.

The most common family roles in addiction include:

  • The Enabler

The enabler tends to be the person closest to the addicted individual. Their behaviour allows the addict to continue their behaviour without any consequences. For example, they might do more chores around the house since the addict cannot, or will not, do them, take on other responsibilities that are not actually theirs and justify the addict’s behaviour. The enabler tends to be denial about the extent of the addiction and will keep making excuses for them.

  • The Hero

The oldest child in the family often adopts this role. They take on responsibilities in the household that do not match their development stage, such as by assuming parental roles. The hero is often obsessed with things being perfect, making the role even more difficult to maintain as addiction worsens and responsibilities multiply.

  • The Scapegoat

This is often the other person that the family focuses on. They usually get in trouble but do not care about the consequences. As they grow up, many scapegoats also have trouble with the law. Their behaviours reflect the chaotic and toxic environment at home.

  • The Mascot

In an unpleasant home environment, some people take on the role of the mascot and try to use humour to cope. They are aware that their comedy may bring some relief to the family and will keep up this role in an attempt to restore balance in the home and make everyone feel more comfortable.

  • The Lost Child

The lost child is often the most quiet child in the family. They are isolated from other family members, which makes it difficult for them to develop relationships outside of their family. They also have a hard time in social situations and end up fantasising as a way to physically and emotionally distract themselves from their home environment.

What effect does addiction have on children?

When it comes to the impact of addiction on family members, it is often the children of addicts who suffer the most. The effects of growing up with a parent who is actively addicted can stay with them through childhood and continue into adulthood. Parental addiction can result in

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Guilt
  • Poor self-esteem or self-image
  • Loneliness
  • Fear of abandonment
  • Feelings of helplessness

 

Furthermore, maternal addiction during pregnancy can result in a variety of developmental and behavioural disorders in children.

Individuals who live with an addicted relative during their childhood have a greater risk of developing emotional and behavioural issues in comparison to others. Children of alcoholics have:

  • Four times the likelihood of developing alcohol addiction than those who did not have an alcoholic parent
  • A harder time dealing with stress and are more likely to marry an alcoholic or abusive partner

 

Children of addicts generally grow up in a home environment that is extremely unstable. Children in these circumstances cannot determine whether they will get the sober or intoxicated parent from one moment to the next. They usually have to take care of themselves at times when adult supervision is expected. The financial toll of addiction can also cause a child to be malnourished and undereducated.

When illicit drugs are part of the problem, children tend to be unfairly exposed to criminal activities. In some cases, they may even be asked to aid in these activities by lying about their parent’s activities. In addition, parents who abuse substances of any kind have a higher likelihood of mental illness, legal issues, unemployment and divorce.

Ultimately, a child who grows up with at least one addict is usually deprived of important aspects of their childhood.

What is the difference between helping and enabling?

When a family member has an addiction, it is common for families to want to find a solution. Even though they have good intentions, family members who do not realise the difference between enabling and helping may end up being part of the problem. Family members tend to enable addicts since they are not sure how they can actually help. They may start to think that they can control the addiction to reduce the risks, which results in a dysfunctional dynamic that supports the addict’s destructive lifestyle.

Enabling happens when the family and friends of an addict support their addiction through their behaviours and thoughts. They prevent the addict from facing the consequences of their actions. When a person enables an addiction, they end up losing self-respect. Similarly, the addict ends up losing respect for them. Being a part of enabling behaviours or ignoring the issue causes people to lose respect for themselves since they know that they are not doing the right thing.

Enabling does not just create a lenient attitude toward alcohol or drug use. It also prevents the addict from choosing to get help. Enabled addicts eventually lose faith in themselves and do not have any respect for their loved ones who allowed them to keep using either.

Signs of enabling behaviours from families of addicts include:

  • Denial
  • Justification
  • Allowing substance use
  • Avoiding the problem
  • Assuming responsibilities
  • Suppressing feelings
  • Protecting the family’s image
  • Minimising the situation
  • Blaming
  • Controlling behaviours

How can you help someone you love who has an addiction?

Shadow figures helping one another climbing up the hills

Family members can help addicts by stopping harmful behaviours. Identifying and changing enabling behaviours can help their loved one recover from addiction. Other steps that families can take to help a person get sober include:

  • Setting boundaries – Family members need to set clear boundaries to reduce stress and stop drug-seeking behaviours.
  • Not making excuses – Making excuses for someone only encourages them to continue their behaviour.
  • Trying addiction family therapy models – Family therapy for substance abuse can help addicts deal with their feelings surrounding addiction, address any underlying issues, and teaches them that they are not their disease.
  • Going to support groups – Family involvement in substance abuse treatment can give family members a place to share their concerns and find out more about addiction. Trusted programmes such as AA and NA can provide help for families of addicts by allowing family members to listen to and share with others. It also helps to learn from the experiences of others who are facing similar issues as a loved one.
  • Completely committing to family involvement in substance abuse treatment – Addiction therapy is a lifelong commitment for the addict and their family. Families must commit to addiction family therapy models with their loved one to learn how to communicate and interact in healthy ways.

What is an addiction family therapy model?

Addiction family therapy models involve a set of therapeutic methods that use the family’s resources and strengths to help the addict live without using alcohol or drugs. Addiction family therapy models also aim to lessen the harm of addiction on both the addict and their family. Other issues may also come up during family therapy, including parenting skills, family conflict, depression and abuse.

When it comes to family involvement in substance abuse treatment, an essential part of it comes down to education. Letting family members ask questions and start a discussion can already be healing in itself. When used in combination with other types of therapy, family therapy becomes even that much more effective.

What is the effectiveness of family therapy?

Family therapy is commonly used in addiction treatment programmes because of its proven effectiveness. Family therapy used to be offered to adolescents with substance abuse issues, but now it is used for practically everyone who struggles with an addiction since study after study shows that it is beneficial for almost everyone. Family members who participate in family therapy find it easier to relate, communicate in a healthier way and are able to offer support. Essentially, family therapy promotes healing for all family members by creating a loving and supportive environment.

Treatment at The Dawn Rehab in Thailand

If your loved one is ready to seek treatment at an inpatient drug and alcohol rehab centre, it is important to find out the family therapy options that are available. Family sessions have proven to be beneficial for healing wounds and overcoming negative emotions. When a person is actively addicted, their behaviour can hurt those closest to them. Attending a treatment facility that educates the entire family about addiction as a disease encourages healing and helps develop an understanding of why things happened the way they did.

At The Dawn, we understand how essential it is for healing to take place within the family which is why we offer an intensive 3-day educational workshops for family members of clients who complete our residential treatment. Our goal is to restore the family bonds to their original state before addiction became part of the picture. We also understand how important it is for recovering addicts to have the support, encouragement and strength of their loved ones behind them throughout and after their treatment.

Being involved in your loved one’s recovery and treatment helps everyone heal from addiction and start to work towards a better future. If your family has been affected by a loved one’s addiction, today is the day to get help. Contact us today to receive a no-obligation assessment to find out how we can help. You can also call us on one of our toll-free numbers.

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