The Family Dynamics of Addiction

The Family Dynamics of Addiction

Addiction is a family disease. This means that everyone in the family becomes, in a sense, sick.  Untreated addictions push the family to their breaking point and impacts the stability of the home. Over time, the family’s unity, mental health, physical health, financial security and overall family dynamics change due to the addiction. 

While many people are aware that addiction is a family disease, some are surprised to learn that even though they aren’t the one with an addiction, their role within the unit is causing more harm than good. By understanding the dynamics of addiction, families can uncover and resolve conflict, avoid codependent relationships and create a supportive environment which is conducive to long-term sobriety. 

How Does Addiction Affect the Family Unit? 

Battling a substance use disorder is not just a personal experience. Though addicts often feel that it’s their journey, the entire family suffers the consequences in some way. For example, a parent may be overly stressed from waiting up at night or a sibling may live in a hostile environment due to the fighting over the addiction. 

The effects of drug and alcohol addiction can be long lasting. Even the most peaceful homes can be severely disrupted. As the addiction continues, trust begins to fade and relatives often become more guarded, leaving the immediate family unit to deal with the addiction on their own. This lack of support and social isolation only makes things more strenuous, which is why addiction is powerful enough to end marriages and separate families. 

Some people assume that when a family member is abusing drugs and alcohol, they need to leave the family home. While this may sound fine in theory – a person who hits rock bottom will seek Phoenix-based outpatient drug rehab, right? – but rarely does it work out this way. Instead, drug and alcohol abusers who are asked to leave often end up living on the streets or overdosing. When family members find out, they tend to blame themselves. 

What are the Family Roles in Addiction? 

Even though American families are unique, there tends to be dysfunctional roles that are common in families with addiction. These include the: 

  • Addict. This is the person who struggles with drug and alcohol abuse. Obviously, an addict runs the risk of developing compulsive behaviors and other health risks if they don’t seek treatment from a Phoenix recovery center
  • Enabler. An enabler is someone who tries to reduce harm in the family. However, their efforts to smooth things over only allow the addiction to grow more powerful. Enablers often struggle with chronic illness and a lack of focus on themselves.
  • Hero. Children in families with addiction often try to be the peacekeepers. We call them “heroes” because they try to bring peace to the household. Over time, this family role can lead to approval-seeking behaviors. 
  • Scapegoat. The scapegoat is the one who is blamed for the family’s problems, such as a parent or difficult teen. Scapegoats tend to act out when they’re older and have trouble with authority figures. 
  • Clown. Typically, the youngest child in the family is the clown and relied on by the rest of the family for distraction. Unfortunately, being the clown can lead to emotional immaturity and feelings of exclusion. 
  • Lost child. Young children in the family may try hard not to cause problems because they know their family is in turmoil, but they end up being neglected. When they’re older, neglected children often have trouble connecting with others and managing their emotions. 

As you can see, family members play important roles in the addiction process. By attending family therapy and support groups like Al-Anon and Nar-Anon, you can be aware of these roles and how to avoid them. 

family spending time together

Codependency: A Common Problem in Families with Addiction 

Codependency deserves its own section because it’s something that turns up quite often in families struggling with addiction. Codependent relationships form between the addict and the enabler, which is usually a parent or spouse. It can be dangerous for both individuals. 

In a codependent relationship, both people are attached to each other. One person is the addict. The other person focuses on the addict’s needs to the extent that they don’t think of themselves. This harmful relationship pattern causes the enabler to put the addict’s needs ahead of their own, and both behaviors (the addiction and the enabling) reinforce each other. 

While it’s true that codependency is destructive, most people don’t do this on purpose. Instead, they believe they are protecting their loved one. However, when addicts don’t have any consequences to their behaviors, they’ll never have a reason to stop using. Therefore, making excuses, paying their bills and avoiding rehab in Phoenix AZ allow the addiction to progress. 

To help you better understand codependency, here are some examples of this behavior: 

  • Exaggerated sense of responsibility for others’ actions 
  • Tendency to do more of their share than necessary
  • Unhealthy dependence on relationships 
  • Fear of abandonment or being alone 
  • Difficulty making decisions 
  • Sense of guilt when asserting themselves 
  • Problems with setting boundaries 
  • Compelling need to control others 
  • Need for approval and recognition 

Family members who are codependent usually don’t mean harm, but they do need to stop these behaviors before further damaging the family unit. To identify and correct these behaviors, family therapy and counseling are both effective. They teach family members how to be honest with themselves, how to set boundaries and how to stop negative thinking. 

Ways Family Members Can Support Recovery 

Because addiction is a family disease, families need treatment, too. If your loved one accepts drug rehab in Arizona, select a treatment center that offers support, education and resources for families. This way, you can take part in family therapy sessions with your loved one. You can also join a support network or seek individual counseling to work through your own underlying issues. 

It also helps to learn about addiction as a brain disease, as this will help you be more compassionate and understanding, as well as set realistic expectations. Additional lifestyle changes to make in the home include eating meals together, setting boundaries and expectations, getting regular exercise and following a balanced schedule.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, help is available for everyone in the family. Continuum Recovery Center has a Family Education Program that is offered on a monthly basis. Family members can attend in person or through phone. During this time, we discuss a variety of topics like the addiction disease model, the purpose of treatment and what enabling looks like. We can also point you in the direction of additional resources. 

To learn more about our approach to holistic recovery for addiction, contact Continuum Recovery Center today.