Families are made up of individuals. Collectively, these individuals make up a system of sorts—a family system. Family members interact with each other in very specific, unique ways. It creates a rhythm that consists of behaviors, words, expectations, personalities, and more.
A family system is far more delicate than most people realize. If one family member undergoes a chance, it will change the entire system, too. This is precisely why addiction is considered to be a family disease. When one person is addicted, the whole family is impacted in both obvious and covert ways. Let’s explore some of the ways addiction is a family disease.
1. Loss of Trust
Addiction inevitably involves deception and manipulation. This can only go on for so long before it eats away at the trust built up within the family. When a member of the family system is lying to cover up the addiction, it creates uncertainty, and members take sides. On top of that, when the addicted individual promises to stop but cannot, it can further add to an overall sense of distrust.
2. Compromised Physical Health
Having an addicted family member is a source of significant stress. In turn, this stress can contribute to physical ills for others in the system. They might be so worried that it impacts their sleep patterns. Or perhaps the concern causes them to neglect healthy habits related to eating and exercise. The physical outcomes of these situations only add to the overall tension in the family.
3. Compromised Mental Health
Fear and anxiety become a daily presence. There is a feeling of losing control. Over time, this can wreak havoc on the collective and individual psyches. If a family member is particularly young, the experience can become the source of childhood trauma.
4. Financial Issues
The money woes can be directly connected to the addiction. The person in question may need money to purchase whatever substance they are using. Also, the addiction might be related to gambling or other financially costly habits. On top of that, family members may miss work to help out or maybe even lose their job.
5. Lost Connections
This could be the most insidious and long-term of the problems. Sure, all families have their struggles and disagreements, but addiction can cause deeper schisms, e.g.:
- Inability to communicate in a healthy or productive way
- Unwilling to communicate at all
- Blaming each other
- Feeling ashamed of the situation
- Feeling guilty about the situation
- Growing distant and estranged from one another
Left unaddressed, these trends can outlive the addiction. Hence, addiction treatment will almost always include all of the family members.
Some Steps For Addressing the Family Disease of Addiction
- Accept what is happening: Denial is strong in these cases. But you must collectively accept reality in the name of getting the addict the help they need.
- Recognize that you need new ideas: When friction explodes, use it as an opportunity to try new approaches.
- Stop trying to “fix” the addicted family member: The addicted person must be held accountable and accept their responsibility to get help. Stop blaming each other and stay focused on the intervention.
- Lean on your family system for structure: Do not let your rhythms and patterns fade. Keep some traditions. Create new ones. Hold tight to the family unit even as you strive to manage the stress of addiction.
Reach Out For Family Therapy
A family disease requires family treatment. Family therapy is a proven method for addressing both the addiction and its impact on the family. If someone in your family is struggling with addiction, I’d love to chat with you at your earliest convenience.