Addiction is a Family Disease

Happy family at home

Although addiction is an isolating disease for the addict, it affects everyone close to them as well. Addiction becomes a disease of the family unit as it progresses, harming everyone in its path. We can better understand how addiction harms families if we picture the addict as a person stuck in quicksand. They are being pulled down by their disease and they can’t find a way out. Family members who try to help them are often caught by the quicksand too, and soon find themselves sinking down with their loved one. Families need a lifeline of help to pull them out and to give everyone some stable footing again!

Although addiction is an isolating disease for the addict, it affects everyone close to them as well. Addiction becomes a disease of the family unit as it progresses, harming everyone in its path. We can better understand how addiction harms families if we picture the addict as a person stuck in quicksand. They are being pulled down by their disease and they can’t find a way out. Family members who try to help them are often caught by the quicksand too, and soon find themselves sinking down with their loved one. Families need a lifeline of help to pull them out and to give everyone some stable footing again!

Imbalance in Family Dynamic

As an addict tries to support their disease, they enter a cycle of taking and absorbing without being able to give back. An imbalance sets in where the needs of those trying to help an addict aren’t being met and the addict still isn’t getting any better. Codependency is one of the results of this type of imbalance and can be found in many types of relationships (parent/child, husband/wife, etc).

Each party plays a role in a codependent relationship: the addict is the one who needs care, who is out of control, and who demands all the resources of time, money, etc. that they can get. The loved one of the addict assumes the role of caregiver, controlling interest, and responsible adult. While both parties feel that they need to fulfill the role they’re in, neither one is actually healthy or helping the situation at all. The imbalance created by codependency isn’t sustainable and eventually everything will come toppling over.

Family Coping Roles

Codependency is just one response to the imbalance created within a family at the hands of addiction. Usually each member of the family ends up trying to help fix the imbalance in some way, letting their own needs go unmet in the process. Do you recognize some of the following roles that are common when addiction is present in your own family?

  • The Scapegoat: This person assumes all the blame for things that are going wrong in the family. This blame provides a distraction from the real problem: addiction.

 

  • The Hero: This is the person keeping all the balls in the air. They are responsible, successful, and work hard for approval. They seem confident on the outside, but are constantly worried about failure on the inside. They are often the eldest in the family.

 

  • The Clown: Another distractor, this person tries to detract from the impact of addiction by making jokes, putting on a show, and getting everyone to have some fun. Another variation of his role includes acting out in more negative ways.

 

  • The Lost Child: This family member copes with addiction by flying under the radar and trying not to draw attention to themselves. They may seem like they haven’t noticed any problems, but they are quietly hiding fear, anger, and low self-esteem.

 

Help for the Whole Group

Since addiction is a disease that affects the whole family, addiction treatment needs to be available for the whole family as well. This is the best way to restore balance to the family unit and to teach members about how to manage the disease in a healthy way. The damage done to others through addiction needs to be addressed because it can lead to co-occurring disorders and even addiction in the future. Engaging in family counseling and other recovery resources can get your family functioning as a loving, productive group again.