Family roles in addiction recovery are extraordinarily complex, and addiction affects each member of the family unit. While every family is unique, human beings tend to fall into distinct patterns of behavior when crises such as addiction occur. As such, scientists have identified several roles that families fall into as a reaction to substance use disorders.
Even more importantly, we’re gaining an increasing understanding of how family members can support addicted loved ones and help guide them towards seeking professional treatment. Read on to find out more about the family dynamics of addiction and recovery.
Why Is Addiction a Family Disease?
Substance abuse disorders have a frightening impact on an individual that sends shockwaves throughout their life, the lives of their family members and society as a whole. When one member of a family is struggling with drug or alcohol abuse, they’ll need emotional, physical and often financial support from those around them. This takes time and resources away from the other family members and forces them to use their energy trying to help the sufferer.
The entire family might be more than happy to help the individual with substance abuse problems, but it still causes stress and potentially mental illness. Alcohol and drug addiction lead to denial, belligerence, dishonesty, blame and all sorts of unwanted behaviors. Dealing with them can take a major toll on the whole family’s well-being if they don’t seek help for themselves as well.
Parents and spouses of addicted people are particularly susceptible to ill health as a result of caring for their loved one. They can feel such a strong sense of duty and responsibility for the addicted person that they lose sight of their own self-care entirely. Luckily, there are support groups available to help family members of people with substance abuse disorders.
Are Mental Health Problems and Addiction Hereditary?
While it’s true that addicted parents are more likely to raise individuals who grow up to abuse substances themselves, there’s no direct causation. In other words, if someone grows up in a household where substances are present, they’re more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol themselves. Luckily, lifestyle and environment play an equal role in the development of addiction to genetics.
Provided children from households where there was drug or alcohol addiction get access to therapy and learn healthy coping skills, they can grow up to be happy, healthy individuals. Addiction treatment can help parents of young children learn how to communicate in a positive, helpful way regarding their experiences to help their children avoid making the same mistakes as adults. Openness, expressing feelings and focusing on the positive are all essential when it comes to avoiding dysfunction.
Family Roles in Active Addiction
Homes where addiction is present are often housing dysfunctional families where the dynamic is hostile and harmful instead of empowering and supportive. Whether this occurs as a result of addiction or was present beforehand is unique to individual families, but there are common roles we see in each one. While family plays a key role in addiction recovery, it often takes professional guidance to help them kick-start healthy communication.
Dysfunctional family members tend to fall into the following roles:
- The Mascot: The mascot uses humor to distract themselves and others from challenging emotions. While it seems as if they’re just providing much-needed entertainment for the rest of the family, this can become an unhealthy mechanism in later life.
- The Hero: The hero works doubly hard to look good in the face of adversity and try to hold the family unit together by singlehandedly holding up the fort. This inability to show vulnerability and always be the best can take a serious toll in the long run.
- The Scapegoat: The scapegoat is the person within the family who tends to get into trouble and provide distractions from the real issues at hand.
- The Lost Child: The lost child avoids conflict and danger by withdrawing into their own world emotionally and physically. They go to great lengths not to be a burden to anyone, often limiting their own potential as a result.
- The Enabler: The enabler thinks they have the power to rescue the addicted person or at least ensure they aren’t distressed. This usually comes from a desire to avoid shame and embarrassment through denial and can hold the sufferer back from seeking the care and attention they need.
What Is Codependency Within a Family System?
Codependents hinder many people who are taking part in the recovery process. In many cases, the family members are both completely unaware that it’s taking place and require counseling to fully understand it. In simple terms, enabling is behavior that explicitly or implicitly encourages the addicted person to use drugs or alcohol.
The obvious way enablers operate is by buying or procuring substances for the addict or using substances together with them. Sometimes it takes more subtle forms, such as a parent or spouse being hypercritical or aggressive towards the addict. In most cases, wanting to escape into inebriation is a sign of emotional dysregulation, and putting stress on them gives them a reason to use drugs or alcohol.
Five Tips for Helping an Addicted Family Member
Reclaiming a sense of normalcy requires extensive discussion about how each member of the family thinks and feels. Emotional struggle is at the heart of many substance abuse problems, and family members are uniquely placed to help loved ones get through it. You can use your additional understanding of who they really are deep down underneath the addictive behaviors to help them find their way back to health and happiness.
Here are some tips to help you get back on the right track with your loved one as they navigate the recovery process:
1. Don’t Play the Blame Game
Anger, blame and accusation aren’t going to make the situation any better — although it’s completely normal to feel these emotions when faced with addiction. It’s crucial that you find a safe place to vent about your feelings where the addicted person won’t hear you. That way, you get to release your stress without it being a reason for your loved one to turn to drugs or alcohol.
2. Knowledge Is Power
The more you inform yourself about how substance use disorders affect the mind, body and behavior, the better equipped you are to help. If you rely only on knowledge you’ve picked up along the way, there’s a good chance you’re being informed by misinformation. This could negatively impact the way you interact with the addicted person and perpetuate old stereotypes that won’t help them get the help they need.
Plus, if you’re able to reel off statistics, facts and nuggets of information about the disease, you might capture their attention enough to hint at a stint in rehab.
3. Be Gentle and Open With Your Feelings
When it comes to helping someone overcome addiction, the best thing you can do is set a good example. As tempting as it can be, using logic to talk them into doing something won’t get you very far. Addiction is a deeply embedded habit and not something they can simply choose not to do anymore. Instead of pleading, begging or getting angry with them about drugs or alcohol, invite them to speak to you about how they feel.
If you’re in a large family, sit together on a regular basis and openly discuss how you feel, being careful to be constructive and positive. If you can get them to open up too, it’ll be easier to help them get a place at rehab.
4. Avoid Arguments
Arguments are very common in families who struggle with addiction, but they’re incredibly unhelpful.
A great way to move away from squabbling is by using techniques such as pattern interrupt. This involves agreeing on a prompt, such as a handwritten letter to read as soon as an argument starts brewing. The letter might suggest watching a comedy clip, listening to a happy song or some other action that distracts you from the confrontation and moves you back into a calmer, more rational headspace.
5. Hate the Disease, Not the Person
Finally, it’s vital that family members truly understand that addiction is a disease and the symptoms your loved one is displaying are temporary. Instead of directing your negative emotions at the person, focus them on the disease itself. Many people find this to be an incredible relief.
Drug Abuse Treatment Program in Florida
Calusa Recovery is an addiction treatment center located close to the sandy shores and azure waters of Fort Myers, Florida. If you’d like to learn more about family and addiction recovery, call our Fort Myers rehab today at 844-254-9664.