Addiction is not an individual problem; it is a disease that affects the entire family in many complex ways. No matter what family dynamics might have been before addiction became an issue; chances are, they will fluctuate considerably as each family member grapples to cope with the addiction process. In most cases, those fluctuations have a negative impact on each family member and professional assistance will likely be needed to help each member achieve a state of wholeness and wellness once again.
Common Reactions to Addiction
There are a number of ways family members might respond to addiction:
Jealousy and Resentment – Because the family unit begins to center on the addictive behavior, some family members may become jealous or resentful of the all the attention placed on the addictive individual. This can be especially true for children that do not receive the proper care from a parent because of addiction. It can also occur with siblings if a child is the one with the addiction.
Withdrawal – Because the family situation can become painfully strained due to an addiction, some family members may respond to the tension by withdrawing completely. Withdrawal ensures a family member does not “rock the boat,” which might result in negative behavior from the addict. It can also allow a family member to live in denial of the addiction that is slowly taking over the family unit.
Distrust and Anger – Someone with a substance addiction is not typically reliable in following through with promises or meeting obligations. This can result in distrust and bitterness by other family members. As family members lose their sense of who they can depend on within the family, they may have more trouble trusting those outside the family unit as well.
Co-Dependency and Enabling – Co-dependency is a series of behaviors used to compensate or cover up the addiction within the family. These behaviors can lead to an extreme need to please and care for others. When the person cared for is the addict, co-dependency results in enabling that individual to continue with the addiction. It also has a direct impact on the self-esteem and trust of the individual working hard to keep the addiction under wraps.
Because addiction affects the entire family unit, treatment often must include each member of the family to be completely successful. Fortunately, most treatment programs and centers recognize the need for family treatment today, and offer services and support to every family member that has been impacted by the addiction.