Addiction is a family disease that stresses the family to the breaking point, impacts the stability of the home, the family's unity, mental health, physical health, finances, and overall family dynamics.
Living with addiction can put family members under unusual stress. Normal routines are constantly being interrupted by unexpected or even frightening kinds of experiences that are part of living with alcohol and drug use. What is being said often doesn’t match up with what family members sense, feel beneath the surface or see right in front of their eyes. The alcohol or drug user as well as family members may bend, manipulate and deny reality in their attempt to maintain a family order that they experience as gradually slipping away. The entire system becomes absorbed by a problem that is slowly spinning out of control. Little things become big and big things get minimized as pain is denied and slips out sideways.
Without help, active addiction can totally disrupt family life and cause harmful effects that can last a lifetime.
Support groups such as Al-Anon and Nar-Anon are available for the friends and family of people suffering from addiction (alcohol and drugs, respectively). While these support services are important for making connections with others who may be trying to navigate day-to-day life with addiction in the family, so is seeking professional therapy. Individual therapy for each family member, not just the addict, is important for the mental health of both the addict's spouse or partner and children, and meeting with a therapist as a family can help improve communication among family members, rebalance the family dynamic and give family members a safe environment to express their anger, fear and other concerns. Family therapy may also be helpful in preventing the children of addicts from succumbing to the disease themselves.
Helpful Links for Family and Friends of Addicts
- Al-Anon.org (al-anon.org) For family members of alcoholics.
- Nar-anon (nar-anon.org) For family members of addicts.
- Gam-anon (gam-anon.org) For family members of gamblers.
- Coda.org (coda.org) For co-dependent individuals.
- Adultchildren.org (adultchildren.org) For adult children of alcoholics and addicts.
People recovering from alcoholism and drug addiction, their families, and their children can and often do achieve optimum levels of health and functioning, but this achievement is best measured in years rather than days, weeks, or months. In the process of recovery, families are strengthened through increased levels of genuine intimacy and families are better able to cope with life’s challenges.