Beth gets home from school and finds her mom passed out at the kitchen table. She knows her mom has been drinking all day, just like she does every day. Beth also knows it will be up to her to get dinner on the table and put her younger brother to bed. She is grateful her dad will help her mom upstairs when he gets home from work.
Unfortunately, when there is an addict in the family, it has a profound impact on the entire family. And, for that person who is out of control, they cannot see how it is hurting the family.
Even worse, family members enable the addict’s behavior by giving in to them. Beth makes excuses for her mom and takes over the role her mother should be filling. Or, the daughter of a food addict may purchase junk food to appease the mother. Or, the wife of a sex addict may tell herself she is not satisfying her husband. In other words, they are all enabling the addict to continue their dependency and, ultimately, becoming partially responsible for the behavior.
The Difference Between Use & Abuse
An individual who uses alcohol can have a glass of wine with dinner and forget about it a few hours later. An individual who abuses alcohol will drink to excess and may suffer repercussions.
Casualties of the Disease
Over time, addiction gradually affects the thinking and behavior of each family member until they reach the point where they wonder how they got to be the people they’ve become. They become preoccupied with the addict’s drinking, eating or using either by obsessing about it and ways to control it, or by trying to numb themselves to it and its effects.
As a result of the denial, which is the hallmark of the disease, the family tells themselves it’s not that bad. They cover up for the addict or try to punish them for their behavior. Their lives become centered on the addiction. When this occurs it limits each person’s ability to be emotionally available to the children or other loved ones in their lives, which means they too become casualties of the disease.
The Four Stages of Family Illness
There are four stages of family illness before the family either “bottoms out” or enters recovery.
Stage 1: Concern — This is the stage where family members are acting out of a genuine concern. They are only beginning to experience the effects of alcohol and drug abuse by a loved one. Family members at this stage have no idea what they are up against.
Stage 2: Defense — This happens when family members block out the reality of the situation and are going in and out of denial. During this stage, families are preoccupied with the addict’s/alcoholic’s behavior. They protect the addict by lying to other family members, employers, or to others about his/her behavior.
Stage 3: Adaptation — During this phase, family members try to change their own behavior to adapt to the chemically dependent person’s behavior. This is a critical phase that may cause family members to either become obsessed with the addict, or they may begin to drink or use drugs themselves.
Family members may attempt to become “the perfect person” hoping that will make the addict/alcoholic happy and change his/her ways. It is at this time that family members may begin to feel they are “losing their minds,” become absent minded, feel like failures, and need medical or mental health care. They often give so much to others that they have nothing left to take care of themselves.
Stage 4: Exhaustion — This is when family members defend their use of intoxicant emotions, just like the addict defends his use of drugs or alcohol. They lose their self-worth and experience severe anxiety or depression. All excuses fail and fear rules their lives. They have reached their “bottom.”
Just as when addicts reach their bottom, family members must choose to admit the problem and recover, face insanity or death. They absolutely cannot go on the way things are.
Time to Get Help
The effects of drug or alcohol abuse on families is a serious issue. Unfortunately, there is little the family can do themselves. We recommend finding a treatment center where the afflicted addict can get some professional help.
Family members can also get help through counseling and support groups.
Our loved ones are the most important things on this earth. Don’t let them lose their lives – figuratively or literally. Talk with them about their substance abuse, get educated, and encourage them to ask for help. Family relationships can always be repaired, what most important is saving the addict’s life – and yours.
Addiction Treatment Resources
Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism
Narcotics Anonymous vision is that every addict in the world has the chance to experience our message in his or her own language and culture and find the opportunity for a new way of life.
Santé Center for Healing Santé is situated on a beautiful hilltop in rural Argyle, Texas and treats adults that are suffer from addictive disorders including chemical dependency and process addiction.
Caron Treatment Centers-Texas provides comprehensive gender-separate chemical dependency treatment programs to meet the needs of young adults and adults.
Dr. Kay Sudekum Trotter – Counseling Services addictions treatment drug/alochol, Internet and pornography) focuses on identifying the source of stressful situations or unpleasant feelings while recognizing how problematic usage is affecting the individual’s life.