When a family member gets addicted to alcohol or drugs every member of the family gets hurt. Families struggle to function normally while trying to hide the shame, pain and problems caused by the family’s addiction. Yes, addiction is a family disease and if your family has it you are in for the duration.
The family needs to come together and find the best experts available to beat the addiction. If the family gives it less than their full effort, the disease will damage every family member and perhaps destroy the very core of love history that has held the family together. The bottom line is this: the family either recognizes and treats the addiction or the family goes into denial and the addiction destroys the family.
Many families join together in a united front to hide the addiction. They mistakenly believe that if they could just act normal — if they could just hide the “family problem” and appear “normal” like other families everything will be fine.
Trying to hide the addiction is not a good problem-solving strategy. It is like lighting the fuse on a stick of dynamite and putting it out of sight in your pocket as you sit down for family dinner. The strategy works great, right up to the point where the dynamite explodes.
The dynamite won’t go away just because you don’t want it to be there. Neither will the addiction of a family member. The addiction may seem to come and go. On some days the problems aren’t very bad and then all of a sudden it’s intolerable. Why is this?
This is because addiction is chronic (long-term), progressive (it keeps causing more severe problems), and eventually fatal. All true stories of addiction end in one of two ways: recovery or death. And recovery isn’t easy. There are things you need to do every day to stay away from alcohol and drugs.
Without a family program addiction will eventually turn the family from a safe and loving place that promotes healthy sobriety slowly into a torture chamber. The addiction must be addressed to try to avoid this.
Healthy functional families have many of the systems built into normal family structure that keeps the family together through difficult times and helps them to heal and rebuild after serious pain, problems, and loss.
As these systems are destroyed by the addiction, all the family members begin to suffer and with the suffering come horrible changes.
Not all family members are damaged in the same way. Some family member will be better at hiding the pain than others, but make no mistake- all family members will be impacted by the addiction. They will become experts at both hiding their addiction while using, and the growing pain will disrupt the family. Many families buckle under the strain and break apart, damaging all family members in the process.
As a result, it is easy to look at a family that is affected by addiction, notice the serious problems the family is having, and not even notice that alcohol/drug addiction is causing the problem. This is because we have trained ourselves not to notice.
There are several reasons why this happens.
1. Addicted people are often in denial. They don’t believe their drinking/drugging is causing the problems. They are also experts at shifting the blame to other members of the family.
2. Many of the problems in the addictive family do not appear to be directly caused by alcohol/drugs. The car gets dented! Money goes missing. People get into arguments and fights. You lose your wallet — again. The family is being destroyed by serious problems. It is obvious that something is going wrong, but the causal link to the alcohol/drug addiction is not obvious. This is especially true where the family culture allows social drinking, the sharing of prescription drugs, or the use of marijuana and other illegal drugs.
3. It seems that in addicted families there is a never ending flow of problems and problem solving. Most families trapped by addiction blame the problem on everything except the true cause of the problem — the addiction. This dysfunctional approach to communication and problem solving keeps the core problem hidden while keeping family members buried in an endless barrage of problems.
4. As more family members start to see that the addiction is at the core of almost every family problem, they can then start learning about addiction as a family disease and get the information they need so they can all begin to start healing.
Without professional help, active addiction can destroy families and cause harmful effects that can last a lifetime.
Terence T. Gorski is the Founder and President of The CENAPS Corporation. He is an internationally recognized expert on substance abuse, mental health, violence, and crime. He is best known for his contributions to relapse prevention, managing chemically dependent offenders and developing community-based teams for managing the problems of alcohol, drugs, violence, and crime. He is a prolific author and has published numerous books and articles. Terence is the Director of The National Certification School for Relapse Prevention Specialists.