Three Impacts Addiction Has on the Rest of Your Family
The disease of alcoholism and addiction is a family disease and affects everyone close to the person, notes the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD). Not only does the alcohol or drug user need help, so do the other family members, even if they don’t realize it at the time. You and other family members need and deserve appropriate education, help and support in finding healthy ways to overcome the negative effects of the disease. Education, counseling and mutual aid/support groups can help affected family members realize that: they are not alone; they are not responsible for the drinking or drug use; and they need to take care of themselves, regardless of whether the substance-abusing family member chooses to get help.
When a family member has a substance use disorder, various repercussions can result that impact the family, as reported by and compiled from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI):
- Cloud of Negativity and Fear – Any communication that occurs among family members is negative, taking the form of complaints, criticism and other expressions of displeasure. The overall mood of the household is decidedly downbeat, and positive behavior is ignored. In such families, the only way to get attention or enliven the situation is to create a crisis. This negativity may serve to reinforce the substance abuse.
Rule setting in a drug-addicted-parent home is erratic, enforcement is inconsistent and family structure is inadequate. Children are confused because they cannot figure out the boundaries of right and wrong. As a result, they may behave badly (i.e., acting out) in the hope of getting their parents to set clearly defined boundaries. Without known limits, children cannot predict parental responses and adjust their behavior accordingly.
- Imbalance and Misplaced Duties – Research is becoming increasingly clear that substance abuse has distinct effects on different family structures. For example, the parent of small children may attempt to compensate for deficiencies that his or her substance-abusing spouse has developed as a consequence of substance abuse. Frequently, children may act as surrogate spouses for the parent who abuses substances.
Children may also develop elaborate systems of denial to protect themselves against the reality of a parent’s addiction. Because that option does not exist in a single-parent household with a parent who abuses substances, children are likely to behave in a manner that is not age-appropriate to compensate for the parental deficiency. Alternatively, the aging parents of adults with substance use disorders may maintain inappropriately dependent relationships with their grown offspring, missing the necessary “launching phase” in their relationship so vital to the maturational processes of all family members involved.
Families have a remarkable ability to maintain what family therapists call “homeostasis” (i.e., a sense of stability or order among members of an interdependent group). But when alcohol or drugs are introduced into a family system, the family’s ability to regulate its emotional and behavioral functioning is severely challenged. The family will generally react as a unit to balance itself. In alcoholic homes, this may become a dysfunctional sort of balance.
Balance (or homeostasis) can be achieved when intense emotions can be tolerated both within the self and within the emotional container of the relationship or family. When what is going on within the family is never talked about, children are left to make sense of it on their own. Talking need not be constant, but avoiding communication altogether can lead to confusion and disconnection. Talking about and processing pain is also an important deterrent to developing post traumatic symptoms that show up later in life.
- Abuse-Victimization Cycle – Families where addiction is present are oftentimes painful to live in, which is why those who live with addiction may become traumatized to varying degrees by the experience.
Emotional, physical and psychological abuse is unfortunately all too often present in families that contain addiction and trauma. Abuse is part of the impulsivity that characterizes families where feelings are acted out rather than talked out. The other side of abuse is victimization. The all-too-often dynamic in which the abused child becomes the abusing parent. Having felt helpless and victimized as a child, for example, they act out their childhood pain by passing it on in the form in which they got it rather than identifying their own helplessness and rage at being a victim of abuse.
The challenge of how to ‘keep it all together’ in a somewhat normal way can seem daunting to a family that has a member struggling with substance use disorder – and possibly other mental illness as well. But there are resources out there to help with this process. If you call our 24/7 toll-free helpline, a friendly, knowledgeable professional will assist you in getting the critical info and answers you need. We are effective. We are discrete. And we can help put your family back together again through our highly acclaimed approach.