Addiction: A Family Disease

>> Nov 3, 2018



According to ASAM, “Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US, with 52,404 lethal drug overdoses in 2015. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 20,101 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers, and 12,990 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2015. From 1999 to 2008, overdose death rates, sales and substance use disorder treatment admissions related to prescription pain relievers increased in parallel.” Statistical resources provide overwhelming evidence to support opiate epidemic in the U.S. Opiates are classified as narcotics and act as a depressant, affecting the central nervous system. Ignorance to the stronghold of these medications ultimately lead to dependence and abuse.

It’s no secret that addiction spreads like wildfire, devouring everyone in its path. Addiction affects the family’s emotional health, physical health, financial stability, and the overall dynamics. The normal routines are often interrupted with chaos and an enormous amount of stress. Most families experience shame and wish to keep the addict’s struggles behind closed doors. This can arouse fear, resentment, and guilt amongst members within the household. The addict will often manipulate and play family members against one another to better suit their needs. Education and therapeutic family resources are vital to providing healing for the entire family.

One of the early signs that an individual may be struggling with substance abuse is isolation. As the individual starts to indulge in their vices, they may feel guilty and withdraw from family routines. Other members of the family may isolate as well. In fear of this disease affecting other loved ones, individuals will create space as a protective barrier from the addict. Isolation may prevent the family and the addict from receiving helpful resources that promote recovery.

As the addiction progresses, the addict will exhaust all options to get his/her next high. Even at the expense of causing harm amongst the family dynamics, the addict is overcome with the desire to continue using despite consequences. Prolonged substance abuse can lead to complicated physical and emotional detriment that requires assistance. It’s common for members of the family to feel it is their duty to adjust their roles to fit the dynamics of living with an addict.

The Family Hero
This person is often the eldest provider of the family and aims to keep the family dysfunction quiet. The individual typically portrays strong confidence in taking care of responsibilities but is usually battling internal insecurities and inadequacies. The family hero often blames the disease on their inadequacy in the upbringing of the addict.

The Caretaker
Often referred to as the enabler, the caretaker will negate other obligations, financial responsibilities, and even self care to ensure the addict is taken care of. This person feels guilt and ultimately revolves their life around the chaos of the addict. This ultimately creates an unhealthy, codependent relationship. Unintentional neglect may create jealousy and misunderstanding amongst the other family members.

The Lost Child
Siblings of the addict may feel extremely neglected and rejected. The lost child will often seem quiet and recluse. This person will often times isolate in fear of being a burden or because of feeling of inadequacy and stray away from conflict.

As constant worry, anxiety, and stress ensues, family members become exhausted and resentful at the addict. Often times, the family may feel hopeless and held captive by the disease. It is important for the family to support and not enable nor condemn the addict.

Obviously the family would like to see the addict receive help, but regardless of the addict’s willingness or rebellion, it is quintessential to for the family to seek out therapy.

Family therapy is essential for recovery because not everyone is affected by addiction. The addict does not suffer alone, all members of family and friends are affected by the disease. It is important for the family to be educated on the disease of addiction. It’s not uncommon for individual therapy to include family sessions. The goal is to unify and reunite family members who have been affected. Most addicts will remain in therapy if other members of the family do as well. Healing within the family unit has shown lower relapse rates and higher levels of motivation from the addict through positive reinforcement and support.

According to NIDA, every addict requires a recovery plan that best suites their individualized therapeutic needs. It is important therapy promotes a safe and positive collaboration between the addict and therapist. Avoiding condemnation and confrontation, the therapist must empathize with the patient in order to establish a secure and trustworthy relationship. Education in therapy is also quintessential for recovery, it is important the addict understand that addiction is a disease and not a matter of willpower. 

Through setting expectations the individual will set goals to accomplish throughout the duration in therapy which will ultimately encourage taking further steps towards positive behaviors. Family therapy will help to establish boundaries and healthy communication between the family and the addict in hopes of setting a guide for a strong sober support. Evidence has proven that recovery is a lifelong process that requires maintenance and consistent spiritual and individual growth. Optimum levels of healing and recovery take time but are most successful through increased levels of intimacy, boundaries, understanding, unconditional love, and ongoing support.

Tricia Moceo is an Outreach Specialist for Recovery Local, a local addiction/recovery based marketing company. She advocates long-term sobriety by writing for websites like https://louisvilledrugrehab.com/, providing resources to recovering addicts and shedding light on the disease of addiction. Tricia is a mother of two, actively involved in her local recovery community, and is passionate about helping other women find hope in seemingly hopeless situations.

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