Why is addiction referred to as a family illness?
Once there is any kind of an addiction in a family, slowly but surely everyone’s role begins to change! It is IMPOSSIBLE for a family to function on a ‘normal’ level when addiction rears its ugly head. Addicts are naturally manipulative, secretive, unpredictable and passive-aggressive often leaving other family members bewildered and at a loss at what to do or how to cope! Family members are largely unaware that they are actually ‘powerless’ over the addict’s attitudes and behaviours just as the addict is powerless of the addiction.
Unwittingly, family members, lives begin to adapt in order to best meet both theirs and the addict’s needs. Some may throw themselves into denial and avoid the ‘elephant in the living room’! Others may become family policemen and try to tackle the addict head on which is pointless. The uninitiated may say at this point “throw the addict on the street” but how many families are realistically prepared to do that and how helpful would this be?
One day bleeds into the next as the family members, whether they are living with the addict or not become preoccupied with the addict, wondering what they are up to and when this nightmare is going to stop. Quite naturally, family members start to enable the addict as they possibly fear losing the addict by them either leaving home or worse, overdosing and dying! The family system starts to implode as they each have different ideas about what is best in order to deal with the situation. Just like the addict, family member become secretive and give the addict money, for example when no one is looking. It’s not uncommon for a family member to drive the addict to their drug dealer, buy them food, pay their rent and utility bills. None of this behaviour helps at all and actually prolongs a painful and disastrous situation.
What Can Family Members Do To Help?
Some family members think they are helping but actually all they are doing is ‘enabling’. It’s understandable how family members become involved with the addict as they fear for both themselves and the addict, almost damned if they do help and damned if they don’t!
Tough love is essential, yet very difficult to carry out. Many family members try tough love and the addicts react strongly and reverses the situation in order to gain sympathy. This kind of experience is to be avoided in future and so the addict has taken the family hostage and become his slaves! Its important to not give the addict any money or home comforts and arrange an intervention by a professional who appreciates these desperate situations. The idea of a professional intervention is to assist the addict in gaining awareness of how their attitudes and behaviours are destroying the family and how selfish they are. This type of intervention is meticulously planned in order to get the best results which is why such a high percentage of interventions are successful.
David is the Clinical and Development Director of Twin Rivers Rehab in South Africa and a UK Accredited Addictions Therapist with the Federation of Drug and Alcohol Professionals UK. Articles/Blogs are written with the assistance of researchers and other specialists in the field of addiction and the recovery process