Living with a loved one who battles with addiction can be an emotional rollercoaster. Oftentimes, family members lose sight of their own needs in an effort to mediate and take care of the ailing alcoholic or addict. When this happens, friends and family may feel neglected, overlooked, and even abused.
How does one seek help while living with someone in the throes of addiction? What about living with an alcoholic or addict in recovery? The tools are the same.
At a full-service treatment facility, therapists and staff understand the importance of including family members in the recovery process. Addicts and alcoholics typically affect a wide circle of friends and loved ones. These individuals need support as well. Through education, understanding, and group process groups, family programs offer firsthand insight into the realities of the addiction process and recovery.
While friends and family members may lean on each other during times of trouble, outside support networks, such as Al-Anon, Alateen, and CoDA (Co-Dependents Anonymous), are also available to provide enduring, non-judgmental, and anonymous support. By attending these groups, you are giving yourself the chance to grow and become educated in the field of addiction and recovery. There, you may gain insight and perspective on the disease of alcoholism and understand that this disease does not exist in a vacuum. You are not alone. People do recover, together.
When an addict or alcoholic is in the midst of his or her disease, family members may react in a way they wouldn’t usually toward their loved one. Communication systems break down. Feelings get hurt. Relationships suffer. Affordable group therapy is offered in most major cities in addition to individual therapy for recovering family members. By creating a safe space to discuss topics openly, with the help of a trained therapist, family members can take these skills into the home and practice them in their daily lives.
Remembering what your life was before you became entrenched in the devastation of alcoholism and addiction is important in building a path toward the realization of recovery. Creating an ideal vision of your life, including hobbies you enjoy and maintaining social activities, is part of developing a full plan for self-care and self-discovery. The more you take care of yourself, the better you will be able to offer support to others. This is true whether the addict is in recovery or active addiction.
While it may be tempting to check up on the alcoholic, protect the addict from harm, and over-analyze every interaction that takes place in the home, it is not healthy for you, the recovering family member, to give up your well-being for someone else. Developing a spiritual practice, involving yourself in nature, and keeping busy with work and activity are all ways in which you can remain attentive to the one thing you have some control over: your own life.
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