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Why Is Addiction Referred To As a Family Disease?

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You may have heard the phrase “addiction is a family disease” and wondered what it truly means.  Does it mean everyone in the family is addicted?  No. It means a person’s addiction and the behaviors surrounding substance use can have a negative impact on all members of the family.  

Generally, when we think about addiction, we focus on individuals themselves.  We conjure images in our minds of what the person must be going through.  We wonder if they care about how they are destroying their mental and physical health.  However, few people think about the person’s family and how they are affected by their loved one’s addiction.  

How Are Family Members Affected by a Loved One’s Addiction?

AddictionTo better understand how addiction is a family disease, we should take a look at the true extent of substance abuse.  The emotional, financial, and physical effects on the entire family must be considered.  The full impact of addiction on a family can be tragic.

Emotional Impact

As is often the case, a loving, peaceful family ends up in chaos due to a loved one’s addiction.  Conflict becomes an everyday occurrence and family members are always on edge wondering what will happen next.  

Someone with a substance use disorder often displays erratic behavior.  They may erupt in rage at the slightest provocation.  Loving family members are in turmoil for fear of saying or doing something to set off another rampage.  This level of stress can cause family members to suffer poor appetite, depression,  and sleepless nights.  Some of them may develop unhealthy coping mechanisms such as drug or alcohol use.  

Family Members Become Enablers

An enabler is someone who allows or enables self-destructive behavior in others.  This means that the enabler mistakenly believes they are helping their loved one. In most cases, the spouse is the enabler.  He or she will take over daily responsibilities their addicted loved one can’t or won’t perform.  Also, the enabler will make excuses for the loved one’s absence from work or social events.

Are You an Enabler?

Would you know if you are enabling a loved one’s addiction?  Here are some signs that you may unknowingly be doing more harm than good.

Do you….

  • Provide money, food, and shelter?
  • Lie on their behalf?
  • Ignore the severity of the addiction?
  • Rationalize the substance use?
  • Shield your loved one from consequences?
  • Do nothing to resolve the situation?

When a person with SUD realizes their loved one is “helping” them, they find ways to take advantage of the situation.  They think they are free to do as they please and will employ several tactics to continue manipulating the enabler.  For instance, they may use one or all of these 4 emotional manipulation techniques:

  1. Fear.  The addicted loved one may make threats to family members when confronted about the substance use.
  2. Guilt.  Many substance abusers blame their problems on their families, thereby making them feel guilty.  This allows the individual to avoid taking personal responsibility for their behaviors.
  3. Hope.  An addicted person will make promises to quit the substance use.  This false hope keeps family members from withdrawing their support.
  4. Victimization.  They portray themselves as victims of circumstances and shift blame to someone else.  This gives them a false sense of justification for their behavior.

Enabling is often the result of codependent relationships.  Codependency occurs when one partner relies excessively on the other for emotional or psychological support.

Effects of Addiction on Children

Growing up in a home with an addicted loved one can affect young children in the present and in the future.  Some of these children will become substance abusers themselves later in life, according to psychologists.  Shockingly, as many as one in five children grow up in a home where substance abuse is a regular occurrence.  

Children of substance abusers often suffer abuse or neglect and may witness terrible violence.  Studies show that these children become mentally and emotionally damaged and feel unloved or unworthy of love.  Some blame themselves for their loved one’s behavior and struggle with guilt or anger.  

Their emotional distress can manifest in several ways including drug use, homelessness, inability to form healthy relationships, and vulnerability to sexual exploitation.  So, not only does addiction destroy the person who is using the drug, it destroys innocent family members as well. 

You and Your Family Deserve a Better Life

Now that you have a better understanding of how addiction is a family disease, are you ready to change the outcome?  If so, we can help.  Contact Design for Change Recovery in Lancaster, CA today.  

We know what it takes to overcome addiction and will design a treatment plan that is right for your loved one’s needs.  We offer a comprehensive program that addresses all aspects of addiction.  With a combination of cognitive-behavioral therapy, counseling, skills training, and family therapy, a happier, healthier future is possible.  Let us put your loved one on the path to recovery for the sake of the entire family.


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