Addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease where some clients are predispose due to genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations. Families normally are drawn into the web of the client’s addiction and at times become entangled in the process and can have dramatic and often traumatic experiences for the family unit.
Families assume roles during the addiction of the client and can take on roles similar to rescuer, persecutor or even be seen as the savior. Families learn to cope and function in the dysfunction of the addict and are at times finding it difficult to cope when the addict goes to treatment as they now have to revert back to a normal role within the family structure.
Addiction is characterized by behaviors that include one or more of the following:
- Impaired control over drug use – an inability to predict when or how much will be consumed
- Compulsive use – an inability to stop using the drug or alcohol
- Continued use despite harm caused to self or others
- Cravings – agitation, discomfort and moodiness
Addiction is also a progressive disease. Without treatment, it normally spiral out of control and it increase the discomfort on the family unit. Addiction affects the stability of the home, the unity of the family, mental and physical health, and the overall family dynamic.
Spouses or partners of addicts go through various stages: denial of the problem, covering up the problem, lying to others about the problem, overcompensating to make up for the shortcomings and failures of the addict, enabling the addict to continue his or her addictive behavior.
Often other siblings suffer in this process as they might feel neglected as most of the attention of the family is on the addict. Often the family members / siblings who are not addicted withdrew themselves from the family unit and tend to isolate. This can cause distress on the individual and might resort to rebellious behavior or at times taking prescription medication to cope with their feelings as often they feel its pointless sharing as life revolves in the family around the addict.
When addiction is chronic, family finances are often drained. Some lose their homes, go into bankruptcy, or face serious economic consequences when bills can’t be paid. If the addict or alcoholic is the breadwinner and they lose their job, the burden falls upon the remaining spouse to support the family. There may be serious legal problems, even resulting in jail time for the addict as a consequence of his or her actions. Frustration, anger, bitterness, betrayal, shame, guilt, and hopelessness set in – not only with the direct family, but with friends and co-workers. They often feel that they should have seen the problem and been able to do something about it.
Families affected often take the perception that we are not the problem and don’t need therapy.
Treatment for families means learning all you can about the disease and equipping yourself to when the addict returns from treatment how to handle yourself and the recovering person. Often when clients return from treatment the family members are not aware of what their roles should be and leave the recovering person to his own devices. Sometimes they fear what topics to discuss and start to walk on egg shells instead of expressing their concern.
Family involvement is crucial while the addict is in treatment and any good recovery program will cater for family therapy sessions with the addict while he is in treatment to help repair ties and relationships that was strained during addiction as when the client is discharged from treatment he goes back to his family environment.
A Letter from a MOM
My life was not perfect, it had its ups and downs, but I got by. Things were not so good between me and the spouse, and things got worse when my son become an addict, still we survived. My son had everything I could possibly give to him. He was a good son. He used to pray regularly, and had a good moral up-bringing. I practically did everything for him_Everything a parent could do … and more.
My child completed the program at the rehabilitation centre and it was a pleasure having him back. Initially, I was scared and nervous and I didn’t know how to handle my child coming home. I remember that I was said at the Support Group meetings that if there is one thing that an addict can’t stand, its pressure. So I thought that I should not pressurize my child. (My first mistake was to want to treat my child with kid-gloves.)
THE PLEA OF MY CHILD
My mom and dad are the greatest and they love each other very much. I love them very much. Sometimes my dad would take us out and my mom would pack some things and we would go to the beach. We would swim and my dad would wet my mom and play with me. I loved being with him. Sometimes my mom and dad would argue but the next time, they would be talking as if nothing happened.
A MOTHERS PRAYER
As I lay here all alone, my mind is once again wandering. Where is my son? I fear for him! Does he not realise what he is doing to himself, to Us, to me?