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In families where one or more members are abusing substances, it’s very difficult to function as a unit amidst the turbulence of stress, neglect, fear, shame, demands, or hardships. Addiction is a chronic and uncontrollable disease that combines the drugs, the person, and the circumstances to progress from the positive experiences of getting high or feeling good to using the drugs to avoid feeling bad or preventing withdrawals.
The negative emotional aspects extend far beyond the user as their basic values, beliefs, thoughts, and behaviors become distorted far beyond the intoxication effects. It’s usually quite common, sometimes even expected, for other family members to suffer from the compromises in their own happiness or welfare that they may feel they are “forced” to make. Some family members choose to ignore or cut ties with the addict and others go a lifetime without getting the help and support they need.
Controversial Effects in Relationships
No one wants to become an addict and many people just cannot understand why an addict will go to such extraordinary lengths to jeopardize their life for the ever-diminishing abilities to enjoy other pleasures, work, or engage in the most important relationships positively.
According to SAMHSA, “Most individuals who abuse alcohol or drugs have jobs and are productive members of society creating a false hope in the family that “it’s not that bad.” In the addict who is consistently defending their abuse, there often develops a buildup of anger, resentment, or guilt that is parlayed into the family relationships dragging their loved ones into the mix of depression, anxiety, fear, confusion, or shame.
An addict may be content for a while, manipulating and taking away the resources from their families in the course of their drug abuse, but, as close relationships continue to breakdown, the paths to use become narrower.
At this point, addicts may find themselves either contemplating treatment; or, getting more involved in criminal activity, preferring the associations of others who are abusing drugs, increasingly isolating themselves from their families, or living out compromising or dangerous activities on the street to support and reinforce their addiction behaviors.
There are a lot of ways that families live with loved ones being addicted, but, treatment, unfortunately, is usually one of the last options they explore for lack of insurance or financial resources, stigma, hopes that things will get better, or the sheer ambivalence of the addict to accept the fact that treatment is needed.
According to the Institute of Medicine (US) , any positive motives an addict might have for getting help, “are often not strong enough in themselves to initiate or sustain compliance with treatment, but, reinforcement through external pushes into treatment and therapeutic pressure within treatment may be effective in doing so.” This is important for families to understand because they can be some of the most powerful influences in helping the addict change their perceptions and motives toward treatment by getting themselves educated, involved in support groups or therapies, and accessing the many resources regardless of the addict’s response.
A release from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) states that, “having actively involved family members can also promote positive behavioral health since family members monitor each other’s behavior, take responsibility for each other’s well-being, and can offer or recommend assistance and support.”
Most professionals who work with addicts and their families are struck by the differences in perceiving the need for those members of the family who are not addicted to reach out and get the support they also need. One member may be open to support groups or therapy while another may not and often it is left up to the addict to contend with the ongoing problems while they, themselves, are trying to recover.
The best thing a family can do when living with an addict is recognize that this is a family disease and as long as one member is suffering, the connectedness will spill over into the rest of the family dynamics – one way or another.