When There’s Addiction In Your Family

As dependence on alcohol and drugs is our most serious national public health problem, it’s likely that you know someone who has fallen into the trap of addiction or needed treatment. Whether this person is a friend, an uncle, a daughter or a parent, it is no easier watching this disease wreak havoc on their lives. 


Addiction is a destructive and insidious condition that escalates over time. It grows and festers not only within the person experiencing the addiction, but also within the lives of the people who are closest to them. It leaves family members vulnerable to the effects of emotional and financial stress, depression, anxiety, and fear, in addition to the deterioration of communication within the entire system

Alcohol and Drug Abuse Hurts Everyone in the Family

As the addiction intensifies, it affects the entire family dynamic. This may be through a spouse developing complementary codependent patterns, children learning maladaptive coping skills, or financial or child-rearing burdens placed on an addicted person’s parents. 


While there is some suggestion that the typical family roles thought to exist in addicted families are outdated and do not account for differences in family structure, many of the underlying truths continue to be a helpful model to explain common phenomenons witnessed in families of addiction. 


The Enabler—The family member who minimizes the problem and protects the addicted family member from the consequences of their behavior.

The Hero—The family member who uses their excellence in performing well to draw attention away from the problem.

The Mascot—The family member who uses humor to make light of serious situations, keep the peace and distract from the problem.

The Scapegoat—The family member who uses misbehavior, poor grades, or their own substance use to distract.

The Lost Child—The family member who appears to be off in their own world, often isolated from the rest of the family. 

Addiction in the family can be especially damaging for children and adolescents. They may be subject to home environments where the problems are denied or covered up. Even when they are in the open, it still may not feel like a safe environment to heal. These children need attention, guidance and support. 

What Can I Do About It?

We as the families of loved ones stuck in a vicious addictive cycle are often the ones who suffer the consequences with what feels like none of the ability to enact change. It’s important to focus on the aspects of the situation you have control over and do your part to lessen the impact of their addiction on your life. 


Here are 8 ways you can take control of the situation. 

1.) Learn as much as possible about addiction.

You may feel tempted to think because of your personal experience with your family member’s addiction that you have it all figured out. Thus, it can be a humbling experience to admit that you don’t really know what they’re going through. 


Be open both to hearing their experience and learning about the true emotional underpinnings of the addictive cycle. By starting with empathy, you will be better able to engage with the healing process. From there you can supplement your emotional understanding with the knowledge of how genetics, biology, and the environment all contribute to addiction. 


Reframing your understanding of addiction in your mind as more than your loved one’s stubbornness, or their being weak-willed can help you loosen your grip on the anger and resentment that currently defines your relationship. As you learn more about the chemistry of addiction and the science behind addiction treatment, you can see how their priorities have been hijacked by the substance, and how their struggle says less about their love for you and more about their own internal state. 

2.) Connect with understanding peers.

It is never easy to live with or support someone who has an addiction. Most times I caution against using the language of absolutes, however, I’ve yet to learn of a single situation where addiction hasn’t caused great difficulty and frustration in the family. 


Long-term stress and dysfunction can make it hard for families to communicate clearly, especially when there is a great deal of mistrust present. Connecting with peers can help, especially when you’ve created a safe, nonjudgmental space to talk about the stresses the addiction has caused.  


Al-anon or Alateen meetings are also an excellent resource where family members can learn about healthy responses to addiction, discuss their concerns, and feel less isolated in their struggle

3.) Go to family therapy sessions.

Many people have a hard time talking openly about their loved one’s addiction and choose instead to say nothing. They’ve given up on the idea that if they were to say something that things will change through a history of being proven that this is the case. Through this desire for self-protection and to avoid future hurt and pain, they have learned it’s still not safe to heal. 


This can cause family members to become distant, and skeptical of their loved one’s recovery. It’s likely that without intervention on the family level, family members accustomed to blaming others for their unhappiness will continue doing so. 


Family therapy sessions offered through addiction treatment programs are meant to help bring these dynamics to the surface, where they can be discussed, and the family can decide together a new path forward. By giving everyone a chance to speak and feel heard, family members can better understand themselves, and work through conflict in a more productive way. 

4.) Prepare meals and eat them as a family.

To encourage family togetherness, it is important to find moments to connect. This can happen over the dinner table and can build upon the work of family therapy. The ritual of eating together and making time for one another sends an important message. Even just one meal together a week can have a significant impact. 

5.) Find an activity that brings you joy.

Remember that it is your responsibility to take charge of your own personal happiness. This means refusing to play the blame game where you give in to thoughts such as “if only they would get better, then my life would be perfect”,  or “if I didn’t have to worry about them, then I would have the time to do things I really enjoy” and any other thoughts of a similar vein. 


This thinking leads us to feel out of control in our current situation when in reality we’re very much capable of creating change. It’s important for each family member to seek some activity that is relaxing and fulfilling to them. 


Some ideas include:

  • Learning an instrument
  • Fishing 
  • Playing a sport or picking a professional team to follow
  • Going on nature walks and photographing unique places you visit
  • Learning a new language
  • Biking around your neighborhood and town
  • Volunteering with animals
  • Playing with children
  • Gardening at home or contributing to the community garden
  • Cooking new recipes or trying your hand at baking
  • Crafting something creative or scrapbooking old memories

Filling your days with activities like these can help to boost both physical and mental well-being. When things in life feel out of control, a hobby that has tangible results can be a great comfort.

6.) Get regular exercise.

Adding physical exercise into your daily routine can be one of the most important things to help you feel in control of your life. Waking up early to go on a sunrise walk or run, or transforming your living room into your workout studio at the end of a workday can help to relieve the stress of the day, and provide you with the energy you need to keep you going. 


Having a reliable way to vent out your worry and stress is an important skill to have as you walk the challenging road of supporting someone with a substance use disorder

7.) Make good sleep a priority.

Ensuring that you are taking good care of yourself doesn’t stop when the sun goes down. We need rest to feel our best, and to have the energy both to take care of ourselves during the day and respond well to others. Without quality sleep, we are more likely to feel easily frustrated and respond to others out of anger or irritation. Having a regular sleep schedule with fixed sleep and wake times can help train the body to more easily fall into deep, restorative sleep.

8.) Invest in your own private therapy.

As a parent, sibling or child of someone who has a problematic relationship with substances, there are often deep wounds that may require professional support to process and work through. Besides learning how to structure your life for success through some of the tips mentioned, you may learn to include mindfulness or meditation practices throughout your day, or work on your assertiveness in communication. 


Learning to access support amid the challenges you face also establishes important patterns that will help you stay strong and resilient as you move forward.


If there is alcohol or drug dependence in your family, remember you are not alone. There are important steps that you can take to feel in control of your life and still be supportive of the loved ones in your life who have a problematic relationship with alcohol or other substances. 

When your loved one is receiving addiction treatment at a Promises Behavioral Health facility, the most important thing that you can do is to take care of yourself and to take part in the process of their healing. You can rest easy knowing Promises Behavioral Health has your and your family’s best interests at heart. To take the first step to repair your family’s ties, call us today at 844 875 5609.

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