According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), addiction is a family disease that stresses the family to the breaking point, impacts the stability of the home, and damages the family’s unity in terms of everyone’s mental health, physical health, finances, and overall family dynamics.
While it’s generally agreed that the overall success of addiction treatment is dependent on the addict working on his or her own issues, for lasting success, treatment might have to go deeper, down to issues rattling about in the family closet that often – however unwittingly – contributed to the addictive behavior in the first place. For this reason, it’s often said recovery is necessary for the entire family, not just the addict.
Not exactly what a dysfunctional family wants to hear, now is it?
But a family living with addiction is a family with its members living under enormous stress. Normal routines are constantly disrupted by the addict’s erratic behavior. There is often a disconnect between what is being said, versus what is going on right in front of their eyes. Codependent behavior helps deny reality in a desperate attempt to maintain a family system that is slowly spinning out of control.
To win the war, you have to start with individual battles.
Because addiction affects the entire family, it’s critical that family members learn about the disease because it rarely exists in a vacuum. While you may feel your immediate family has only one addict, chances are there was a grandparent or an aunt that was affected, if not by alcohol, then by drugs. Previous generations did not discuss addiction as we do now and addiction was kept a shameful family secret.
Many factors determine the likelihood that someone will become an addict, including both inherited and environmental factors. According to Addictions and Recovery.org:
• Addiction is due to 50 percent genetic predisposition and 50 percent poor coping skills.
• The children of addicts are 8 times more likely to develop an addiction.
The addict under the microscope now may open Pandora’s box, enabling a healthy, happy, and sober family to emerge. It’s critical that the family learns about the nature of addiction together. Family discussions should include a look at previous generations in an effort to understand the disease that takes so much from loving families from all walks of life.
Individual family members (such as the sibling who feels resentment for the attention a drug-addicted sister received), might need individual counseling in addition to the entire family as a unit. Sobriety strips away the distractions and chaos inherent in addiction. This may leave a void with many questions, anger, and guilt by all family members. In addition to counseling, there are numerous free resources available for all family members going through recovery.
• Al-Anon (al-anon.org) For family members of alcoholics
• Nar-anon (nar-anon.org) For family members of addicts
• Gam-anon (gam-anon.org) For family members of gamblers
• Coda.org (coda.org) For co-dependent individuals
• ACA (adultchildren.org) For adult children of alcoholics and addicts