Addiction is a Family Disease
It is no secret that the patterned behavior surrounding the disease of addiction affects overall family unity, family finances, physical health, and mental wellbeing, and often leaves in its wake a general state of chaos and dysfunction.
When addiction exists within a family system, no one is left unaffected. In fact, often specific definable roles emerge as each member attempts to adapt to the changes within the system. These roles are born out of survival, as those coping with an alcoholic or addict’s unpredictable behavior helplessly conform to their role, often unknowingly aiding in the dysfunction.
The study of how family members interact and react to one another is called family systems theory and is based on a view of the family as a living, breathing organism, rather than just the sum of its individual members.
The Family Roles in Addiction
While every family is different, five specific themes or set of coping responses appear to accompany the addict’s behavior in their home life. Of course, these roles can plague adults, but most often these responses are seen in children.
The Addict: To begin, it will be important to understand the exact role of the addict in their family context. Of course, the person with addictive behaviors becomes the center of family life, in one way or another, and the one whom all others revolve around. This happens in a number of ways, as again, the ultimate concern of the family is survival. They may spend increasing time helping, enabling, or covering up the addict’s behavior. In reaction to the addict’s unstable and sometimes erratic behavior, the family rules become “don’t talk about it”, “avoid your feelings”, or “keep moving at all costs”.
The Enabler: As the caretaker of the family, it is the job of the enabler to cover for the addicted person’s behavior, help them avoid consequences at all costs, and to keep the family running smoothly. The enabler is most likely in denial themselves regarding the seriousness of the situation, and is works most directly by keeping the addict from facing reality, thus perpetuating the cycle.
The Hero: Similar to the enabler, it is the role of the hero to use positive achievements in school or athletics to distract from the addict, often taking on extra responsibility at home, and in essence, enabling the “enabler” to enable the addict (aka a future “enabler” in the making). The hero often operates from a belief that if somehow they can become “good enough” then everything will be okay.
The Scapegoat: It is the task of the scapegoat in the family to distract from the chaos of the addict’s behavior. Often caught up in addictive patterns themselves, they use rebellion and misbehavior to serve their purpose in the family.
The Mascot: Similar to the scapegoat, the mascot too is tasked with the role of distracting the family from the addict, only their tool is laughter. Through making light of an otherwise grave situation, the mascot employs humor and often carries this skill into adulthood.
The Lost Child: Often lost within the landscape of their own mind, the ‘lost’ child will isolate themselves in an attempt to avoid drawing attention, either positive or negative. The lost child usually learns to deny their own needs for attachment to others and certainly carries this tendency with them into their adult life.
The Importance of Family Counseling
Addiction does not only impact the individual who is struggling with substance abuse, but also family and friends closely involved in their lives. Addiction is a family disease that often leads to strained relationships and choosing sides, especially if you are truly trying to help a family member overcome their battle. Understanding how addiction and family are intertwined is essential to truly develop a plan of action that is beneficial for everyone involved.
Why is Family Therapy Important for Addiction Recovery?
Family therapy is extremely important for anyone working to recover from addiction. Family therapy models work to keep the peace among family members when they are helping a loved one with their habits and addictions.
Attending therapy together as a family helps the individual struggling with addiction to feel supported and loved, especially as kicking a serious addiction is extremely mentally and emotionally taxing. Choosing to participate in therapy as a family helps to strengthen bonds while also providing useful insight into how addictions impact everyone involved in a situation. With therapy for families, speak your mind and remain open to the thoughts, concerns, and questions other loved ones have regarding addiction and how to provide the right type of guidance and support.
Goals of Family Therapy
There are many goals of family therapy that are both beneficial to the individual struggling to overcome addiction as well as family members themselves. Family therapy models are developed to help communication between family members without the individual who is trying to overcome an addiction from feeling alienated, judged, and shamed. The more supported an addicted individual feels, the easier it becomes to share the challenges and obstacles they face each day throughout their journey to sobriety.
Therapy is a useful tool to help guide an individual with an addiction to a happier and more fulfilling lifestyle again. During therapy, family members and the individual affected learn how to communicate with one another while also implementing new goals to stick with together.
Other goals of therapy for families includes rebuilding healthy relationships and letting go of the past. While it is difficult and aggravating to watch a loved one succumb to their addiction, it is also imperative to stand by their side when they are in need of support and love. When a loved one confides in the family about their addiction and their need to change their life, therapy is one route to keep everyone in their support circle on track and with the same mindset.
How to Help a Loved One With an Addiction
There is no right or wrong way to help a loved one with an addiction, as the disease itself is individual and impacts each family differently. The first step to overcoming an addiction is allowing your loved one to admit they are struggling and in need of help. When an individual is able to admit that they are addicted, it is much easier to encourage them to participate in therapy, group meetings, and even rehabilitation centers or programs.
Remain open-minded with those who are trying to overcome an addiction, as it is not always easy and often leads to relapses (especially in those who have quit for the first time). Proper support and reaffirming your belief in a loved one is the best way to reassure them of their progress while motivating them to maintain their sobriety.
Although addiction is a family disease, it does not have to cause loved ones suffering and pain. With the goals of family therapy in place, reach and help your loved one with as much support as possible. Having a clear and thorough understanding of how to approach and tackle the obstacles of addiction, families are better prepared to stop addiction in its tracks.
Begin Family Therapy for Addiction at Home
At MD Home Detox, we understand the toll that addiction takes on the family, and how absolutely essential they are to a full recovery and lasting sobriety. This is why we offer family counseling, among other services to ensure success. Contact MD Home Detox today to learn more about how our services can help you or a loved one overcome addiction.