Addiction is a Family Disease
The stress that comes from having an addicted family member can sometimes feel insurmountable. While the surface problem seems to be presenting itself in the form of one family members addiction or alcoholism, all the different family roles in addiction contribute to the continuation of the disease.
Family members can be enablers to an addict’s lying, manipulating and cheating. These are often described as codependent relationships, which are very common among addicts and their families. The destructive behavior can continue on for as long as their addiction, lasting decades sometimes.
We have found that families that stay informed about addiction, family roles in addiction, and how family can help an addicted loved one, are able to provide the proper support and help their loved one needs.
Understanding Family Roles in Addiction
When a family member suffers from substance use disorder, it can be traumatic for the rest of the family. In order to cope with the trauma, whether directly or indirectly, family members find themselves molding into different family roles in addiction within the family unit. These different roles can make it difficult for family members to communicate and come to a common understanding of how to handle their addicted family member.
This role can be played by anyone in the family. The hero is usually over-responsible to compensate for the family’s dysfunction. Anyone from dad to trophy child, the hero is self-sufficient and tries to maintain the family’s chaos within the walls of the home. The hero may struggle with the pain inflicted on the family by the addict’s behaviors and may feel obligated to be a perfectionist, since he or she feels responsible to maintain expectations of the family.
More often than not, mom is the enabler. She is the caretaker of the family and wants to maintain as peaceful an atmosphere for her family as possible. The enabler usually conceals the addict’s responsibilities and problems to make sure everyone in her family stays calm and happy.
The family system circles around the addict. The main focus of the family is the addict and his or her problems with substance use and the consequences that echo from addiction. An addict is the foundation of the family conflict with his or her actions and behaviors.
He or she is usually the scapegoat of the family, acting out of line for attention in efforts to divert the family’s focus from the addict on to his or herself. By acting out, the antihero tries to distract the family from the addict’s problems.
This person is usually the comedian of the family and tries to alleviate the stressful atmosphere caused by the addict with humor. The comedian uses antics as a defense mechanism.
This family member is the isolated and quiet one. He or she will usually feel left out and fly under the radar while the rest of the family is focused on the addict and his or her problems.
It can be difficult identifying the different family roles in addiction while in the middle of your loved one’s substance use disorder (SUD). This is why it can be crucial to involve professional help. A family therapist, especially one that specializes in SUD, can help the family understand their different family roles in addiction, and how to best change their roles to more positive reinforcements.
Helping vs. Enabling An Addict
If you have a family member who is addicted and depends on you in more than one way, try to assess what part you play in his or her addiction. How do you help this person in continuing their substance use? Do you make it easier for him or her to use? Would he or she be using substances at the current rate if he or she did not have you?
Helping An Addict
Helping an addict is providing something that he or she cannot for his or herself. For example, helping can come in the form of providing food or anything that cannot assist or in purchasing drugs or exchange to purchase drugs. The best help anyone can provide an addict who is suffering is to help them get into treatment.
Steps you can take to help someone seek treatment:
- Hire an interventionist
- Research accredited treatment centers
- Help them get into detox
Enabling An Addict
Enabling an addict is providing something that the addict is perfectly capable of achieving his or herself. Money is something anyone can obtain when fulfilling responsibilities with integrity. Enabling someone is to make buying and using drugs easier for the addict. Making excuses for an addict’s behaviors, providing shelter for an addict who is actively using in the house, bailing him or her out of situations, giving rides to places that he or she should not visit are all examples of enabling. Enabling can also come in the form of lying to another family member to avoid conflict.
Some things to ask yourself:
- Are you taken advantage of?
- Are you financially struggling because of this person?
- Do you avoid conflict or confrontation because of this person?
- Do you make excuses for him or her?
There is a fine line between enabling and helping, but it is important to recognize the difference and act accordingly.
How can family help an addict?
There are many ways in establishing firm boundaries even within the different family roles in addiction. Executing the boundary is one thing and enforcing the boundary is practice. It can be hard to practice saying “no” to a loved one, especially while witnessing his or her struggle with addiction. Nobody wants to see their loved one suffer. It is essential to disable the destructive behaviors by approaching the situation with “tough love”. Remember to have compassion with this strategy because your loved one is, more than likely, not aware of the severity of the problem.
You can establish boundaries by telling your loved one:
- I will not give you money.
- No substance is allowed in the house. Whether it be alcohol, prescription medication, or illicit drugs.
- No friends who use drugs or alcohol are allowed in the house.
- I will not cover for you nor will I lie to anyone for your actions.
- I will not tolerate entitlement or insults.
- I will not wait for you if you are late for an obligation.
Heal The Family Together at All About Recovery
Our family implementation program at All About Recovery focuses on providing the therapy and treatment for the family of the addict as well as the addict currently in our facility. Our clinical director specializes in family and marriage therapy to help addicts and families rebuild trust and their relationship.
Families will have the opportunity to join their loved one for scheduled one-on-one counseling either over the phone, Skype or in person, if feasible. We know the importance of rebuilding familial relationships in our clients having a shot at maintaining life-long sobriety. Our recovery support staff works closely with families to keep them updated throughout their loved ones time in treatment with us.
We know addiction is a family disease. We also know that the healing must be done together. To learn more about our family implementation program, or if you have questions about family roles in addiction, give one of our experienced addiction counselors a call today.