“In this country, don’t forget, a habit is no damn private hell.
A habit is hell for those you love. And in this country,
it’s the worst kind of hell for those who love you.”
– Billie Holiday, from “Lady Sings the Blues”
Addiction can sometimes feel like a tsunami hitting your family head-on, a tidal wave of diverse, and often suppressed emotions that rise to the surface, rearing their ugly head and laying everything bare. It can truly feel like “the worst kind of hell” for those whose lives are built around their family dynamic – for its love, its stability, and its sense of home.
Substance addiction, whether it’s illicit drugs, alcohol or pain-killing prescriptions, will happily destroy your family dynamic. It will erode trust and weaken all communication within. Family members who experience a loved one battling with a substance use disorder (SUD) are often treading around familiar rooms as if they are treading on eggshells. And that with a sense of hopelessness and frustration they can’t shake.
How do I know this? Experience, my friend… good, old experience. My son was a coke addict and an alcoholic to boot for several years before receiving the treatment he so desperately needed in an addiction rehab center in Arizona. It pretty much saved his life.
With professional support and guidance, and speaking from that experience, the family itself can be pivotal in helping the addict achieve and maintain sobriety. The family, and the various roles its members can play, has been proven time after time to be elemental for successful outcomes in addiction recovery.
The Addict in the Family Room
When a family is impacted by substance addiction, it invariably becomes dysfunctional. Within such a family, its members take on “roles” in order to simply cope with all this dysfunctionality, whether they realize it or not. Having been termed many things previously, let’s name these roles, and describe how they function in a dysfunctional home:
- The Hero: The one who brings an element of success to the family. They do this to compensate for the shame and guilt the entire family feels. They do this by looking after themselves, working hard, and remaining positive, even though they themselves are often in denial.
- Joker: The one who always brings a smile and some light relief to the dysfunctional family, using humor and laughter to minimize painful situations and calm tensions.
- The Lost One: The one who is both physically and emotionally vacant, by avoiding conflict and arguments, and by suppressing or hiding their true emotions. They suffer deeply but do not drain emotional resources of family which are already very limited.
- The Scapegoat: That one member of family who always creates other issues in order to distract everyone from the addiction itself.
- The Enabler: Often the actual caregiver, the one who protects the addict by excusing their behavior often springing from a personal desire to avoid shame and embarrassment.
Important: None of the roles described above, adopted during the presence of addiction, and while the family is dysfunctional, are remotely healthy, or in any way actually help the addict find sobriety.
Healthy Family Roles & Behaviors in Addiction Recovery
Family members can take on healthy roles and behaviors to encourage and support addiction recovery. For example, and this is often the case, in reality, one parent may play the role of the supportive but firm parent, encouraging thoughtful and positive action. All family members need to modify their own behavior. This includes holding their addicted loved one accountable and creating rewards for positive choices and subsequent actions.
Talking About Your Concerns
You should not be afraid or reticent about discussing the addiction with the addict. However, avoid being judgmental, angry, or negative with your words. Instead, concentrate upon letting them know how deeply concerned you are for their physical and mental well being. Let them know you want to help them in any way you can, without overstepping any family boundaries (see below). Always present as calm and understanding.
Boundaries for behavior need to be set by the adult members of the family and strictly adhered to. Healthy boundaries in addiction recovery comprise:
- Knowing your limits
- Not allowing drugs or alcohol into the family home
- Establishing and maintaining healthy routines and habits, both as a family and individually
- Not putting yourself in unhealthy or compromising situations
It is important not to forget yourself in all this. Your health, both mental and physical, is an absolute priority, so eat healthy, exercise, and ensure a decent night’s sleep. Remember, there are addiction professionals you can consult, and you can also attend family groups for addicts too.
For example, Al-Anon is a support group focusing on families affected by substance addiction and abuse. All family members are free to attend, and there, you can discuss your concerns and issues with like.minded people. You are not alone.
Please feel free to leave a question or a comment below.
Thank you, and best wishes for your future.
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