Addiction is a Disease That Affects the Whole Family

Living with a loved one in active addiction tends to put a family under intense pressure.

“Addiction is a family disease that stresses the family to the breaking point, impacts the stability of the home, the family's unity, mental health, physical health, finances, and overall family dynamics,” according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.

The substance user as well as family members may deny reality and manipulate each other in the desperate attempt to maintain family cohesion even while it is being eroded by the drug and alcohol misuse of the addicted individual.

Family members often ignore the substance use disorder for far too long in the hope that it will somehow vanish without intervention. Or they simply feel powerless to change the situation. Spouses of addicted partners and parents of children with drug problems often feel ashamed and fear legal repercussions. Family members frequently cannot understand why their loved one is abusing drugs and alcohol in the first place.

Family members may also try to manage the substance use of a loved one, keeping it secret.

They often don’t realize how much the behavior of the addicted family member can change their own behavior in unhealthy ways. If they are controlled by the addicted person’s behavior, they have developed what is known as codependency. Simply put, codependency can be seen as an addiction to a relationship.

Therapy for the Whole Family

If the whole family is affected, the whole family should be involved in the treatment. The Farley Center at Williamsburg Place recognizes that addiction affects the entire family and offers the Family Program to help family members and patients cope with the consequences of addiction.

“Family members have all kinds of reactions to what is going on, including super responsibility and powerlessness; self-blame or blaming the alcoholic; anger and forgiveness; hurt and fear” (The Recovery Book).

All of these feelings and reactions to addiction should be communicated openly. Family therapy will help partners and parents better understand the disease of addiction and the behavior of their loved one. In many cases, co-occurring conditions like anxiety, depression, or trauma are behind the substance abuse. Family members may be unaware of these underlying issues.

The Family Program at the Farley Center covers the following topics: the nature of the disease of addiction, how it affects families, codependency and enabling, resources for recovery, continuing care, and skills for effective communication.

Family members can play an important role, and when they are engaged in the recovery process, the chance of a positive outcome increases. It is important that parents and partners learn basic facts about addiction and about healthy relationships to avoid enabling or codependent behavior.

This is by no means easy for family members. Many times, relationships were taken to the breaking point by the behavior of their loved one. Parents exhausted by the active addiction of their child deserve empathy. Being married to someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol is likely to turn your entire life upside down.

Family members need to work on restoring trust, because trust is always the first casualty in addiction. When trust is restored and all family members engage in clear and honest communication, the recovery of the whole family unit has begun.