When talking about addiction, most people discuss the individual. How the individual is behaving, what they are doing wrong, and what they need to do to get sober. However, addiction is a family disease that affects and is affected by the entire family system. When trying to understand why someone is affected by addiction, it requires a deeper understanding of their family structure. Additionally, family members aside from the individual are almost certainly play a significant role in this disease, whether they know it or not. In some cases addiction can occur across multiple generations, creating a difficult cycle to break.
Before diving into how and why addiction is a family disease, it is important to address the topic of blame. It can be easy to point fingers and assign blame when it comes to addiction and it’s consequences. This is true for those on either side of addiction. However, blaming one another is not a productive means of communication. In fact, blame can cause further damage and hinder the progress of everyone involved.
How Addiction Affects the Family
The best way to approach how addiction affects a family is to think of the family as a system. In any system, when anyone part malfunctions it can affect the function of subsequent parts of the system. Various outside factors can affect how the system has to works, and if one mechanism fails, the whole system is disrupted. As a comparison, think about your A/C system. When the thermostat stops working, the system doesn’t know when to turn on or off. Also, different factors such as the efficiency of the insulation, the temperature outside, and the power of the A/C unit can all affect how hard the system must work in order to keep a room at the desired temperature. This is similar to how the family is a system and when one part is disrupted, it prevents other parts of the system from working properly.
Here are a few examples of how addiction can affect the family:
- If a married individual is struggling with addiction, they may be spending lots of money on drugs or alcohol and may even lose their job. Not only may they be underperforming at work, but they may also be getting into arguments with their spouse about money, among other things. This stress can hinder the spouse from performing well at work too, and can take a major toll on the relationship.
- If one or both parents are using drugs, they may not be able to care for their children or pay the bills. This can lead to children dropping out of school to get a job and pay the bills and care for their parents and/or siblings.
How Family Affects Addiction
The way family members communicate, provide support, and overall interact with each other affects addiction. Someone who is supported, loved, and cared for may be less likely to abuse drugs or be more likely to recover from drug addiction. Open communication allows for individuals who are struggling with addiction, or anything else, to come to those they trust and reach out for help. Also, a close nit family may be more likely to notice signs of addiction and intervene earlier. On the other end of the spectrum, an unsupportive and uninvolved family is unlikely to notice the signs of addiction and intervene until a major, life-altering event occurs. Additionally, a broken family unit has been associated with greater rates of drug use and addiction.
How Family Can Be Involved In The Addiction Treatment Process
The root causes of addiction often run very deep. They may have stemmed from various relationships or life events. As mentioned previously, blaming one person or another is not helpful, but talking openly about the issue and working to resolve it is paramount. Family members can and should join their loved ones in the recovery journey. Here are a few ways in which family members can get involved in the recovery process.
Attend Family Counseling
One way family can support recovery is by attending family counseling or family planning sessions together. While in a family therapy session, participants will be encouraged to share events that affected them and how they felt. They will then be introduced to different exercises to help them communicate or act in a more productive and supportive manner moving forward. It will not always be easy, but therapy can be very rewarding for all parties involved.
Support, Don’t Enable
Another way to be involved in the treatment process is to provide various types of support. Note that supporting a loved one is different than enabling. Show emotional support thought words of affirmation. Show spiritual support by attending open AA meetings or religious gatherings together. Show physical support by physically making time to be together or allowing them to live with you while they get back on their feet.
This may go along with not enabling, but setting boundaries actually does help during recovery. For instance, if you let your loved one live with you right out of rehab, let them know that in order to stay they will have to contribute to the household and cannot miss any of their treatment programming.
Addiction may be a family disease, but when working together the family can play a major role in supporting recovery. The cycle can stop with you. As a part of the addiction treatment process, family members will have an opportunity to get involved during the treatment process, and a lifetime of support is encouraged.