How addiction affects the family
Families where addiction is present are oftentimes painful to live in, which is why those who live with addiction may become traumatized to varying degrees by the experience. Broad swings, from one end of the emotional, psychological and behavioral spectrum to the other, all too often characterize the addicted family system.
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 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 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.
The son or daughter of a parent abusing alcohol or drugs can also end up bogged down. They often adopt a role which helps the family, but they may get stuck in the role and neglect their own needs.
•The Family Hero
This is often the eldest in the family. This person is responsible, works hard for approval, and often appears successful. But inside, this person often feels insecure, as if things are always going to go wrong, and feels incompetent, confused and angry.
This person feels blamed when things go wrong. Everyone focuses on this person’s faults, which provides the family with a distraction from the real problem. So this person often seems rebellious, troublesome, law-breaking, tough… and may be at risk of abusing drugs themselves. Inside, this person is often full of fear, hurt, rejection and loneliness, feeling angry at the unfairness of how they are treated.
•The Lost Child
This son or daughter appears as a dreamer, drifting above the troubled waters that bother other people. But inside, the person is not as contented as they appear. They are quietly hurt, angry, lonely, with a feeling of being inadequate.
Sometimes also referred to as the clown, the person in this role is often charming and cute, fun to be with, quick to make a joke. Sometimes they are quite hyper-active and flit from one interest to another; sometimes quite fragile and easily hurt. But they are good at hiding the hurt, and other feelings of loneliness, insecurity, fear and low self-esteem.
If you recognize any of these roles as being ‘you’, the first step to putting things right is to take time for yourself, to talk to a friend or a counselor. Stop thinking about the addicted person for a while (easier said than done!) and pay attention to your own real needs.
Alcoholism and addiction affects the entire family unit. Think of a mobile that hangs above a baby’s crib. What happens when one piece of the mobile is removed or not there? The mobile is no longer balanced or able to function properly. The same thing goes with families and addiction. The addict is the piece of the mobile that has been removed which throws the whole family off balance.
If you or a family member is in need of addiction treatment please call toll free 1-888-672-4435