It has been said that addiction is a family disease.
One person in the family may be living with substance abuse, but it has a profound effect on other members. People close to an addict or alcoholic can’t help but find themselves influenced by the disease. Alcoholism and drug abuse changes the behavior of those affected by them, which means their relationships with family members change over time.
Family Models Have Changed Over Time
The model of a family made up of a father, mother and children has become the minority in modern society. By the year 2000, the nuclear family made up about 25 percent of the American population.
Today’s families are made up of a variety of family types, which may include single parents, stepfamilies, adoptive families, grandparents raising grandchildren, people raising foster children. Some families also include grandparents, aunts, uncles or cousins living in the same home.
Whatever the ties are that bind a group together (blood, marriage, adoption or choice), family members often find it difficult to admit that someone they love has an addiction. It’s not a topic that comes naturally for anyone to discuss. Even in the face of mounting evidence that the situation is more than a phase or a temporary difficulty that their loved one will work through on his or her own, family members are often hesitant to intervene.
How Families React to an Addict or Alcoholic
There are many ways in which a family may react to a family member who has a substance abuse problem.
Deny There is a Problem: Addiction can’t last unless there are people who support the addicted person in his or her lifestyle. One or more family members who deny there is a problem or make excuses for the addicted person only perpetuate the addiction. They are enablers, the ones who will continue to support the addict or alcoholic by giving the person money, giving them a place to stay and bailing them out of jail.
Blame Themselves: Family members, including children, may feel that they are to blame for a loved one’s drug or alcohol use. They may feel that “if only” they had done or not done something in the past, their loved one would not have become an addict or an alcoholic.
Do Nothing: Some family members may feel that since they don’t know how to handle the situation, the best thing to do is nothing. This is not the same thing as ignoring the issue; family members may be concerned about saying or doing the wrong thing. Out of concerns for making the situation worse, they decide not to act.
Confront the Addict or Alcoholic: Addiction in a family can be a source of conflict, and often there are one or more family members who become angry at the situation. They try to confront the addicted person, believing that recovery from this disease is a matter of choosing to stop using and that through willpower a person can stop.
Family Involvement During Substance Abuse Treatment: Once an addicted family member has agreed to go to treatment, it doesn’t mean the end of family involvement. The person with the substance abuse issue goes into treatment, but the family can also benefit from counseling.
In many instances, family members have lived with and experienced life with an addicted person for months or years before seeking professional treatment. This situation puts a lot of stress on the family unit.
People who are addicted put their addiction first. They may lie, manipulate and steal if necessary to keep a steady supply of their drug of choice. These behaviors can leave family members wondering what happened to the person they remember. It’s very difficult to understand how someone the family recalls as being loving and caring could behave in that manner to satisfy a need for chemicals.
Family therapy programs help a client’s loved ones understand the nature of the disease and that there is hope of recovery. The family can learn to separate the disease and behaviors from the person they love. The family therapy program also covers communication, accountability and suggestions for supporting the client once he or she is ready to return home.
Family Needs to Change for Successful Recovery
When a client leaves a substance abuse treatment center, he or she can’t return to the same family dynamic as before treatment started. The entire family needs to change to provide support for a successful recovery. To that end, family therapy is needed to help all members.
Great Oaks Recovery offers a family program to help clients’ loved ones during this important time in their life.