Most of us associate family with being there for each other and taking care of each other, however when there is an addict in the family the family unit can be stretched to breaking point and beyond. Very often the addict will totally refuse help and even go to lengths it seems to hurt other family members and upset them.
Most people when faced with this situation will try hard to fight their addiction which in turn makes things worse due to the stress and the worse things get the more they turn to their addiction. Therefore the whole family not just the addict gets caught up in the vicious circle and becomes trapped in despair.
How does it all begin?
In the very early stages of addiction denial plays a major part especially those that are closest to the addict who may refuse to believe what is happening and admit that the family does indeed have a problem.
Some denials which are common are
- If I had been a better wife, husband, mother, son, daughter etc. this would never have happened.
- I must have done something to make the person turn to addiction.
- I need to work harder to make the person love me then everything will be ok.
These are only just some of the ways which family members will deny and blame themselves for what has happened to their love ones.
Perhaps by blaming themselves family members will have something to focus on such as believing they can make things better and therefore keeping the family together and functioning in a way. The person with the addiction will usually blame everyone but themselves for the predicament they are in and more often than not the blame is put on the rest of the family.
The inability to discuss what is happening with the family is very often the downfall of that family as very few families will discuss openly what is happening and the effects the addiction is having on them.
This is usually due to fear that once out in the open it will somehow disrupt the family more than it already has or lead to total breakdown of the family. If this is left to fester then eventually all communication ceases and each family member is left with their own pain while continually trying to cope.
What effects this has on the family
- Social effects – Through fear, shame and embarrassment of the addiction family members will start to withdraw from society, friends stop coming to visit, and hobbies get forgotten until eventually the family becomes more and more isolated.
- Mental effects – Family members can often wonder if it themselves who are going crazy, if the family members are searching for evidence to back up their worries that someone they love has an addiction or if they have been lied to on a regular basis then very often they can start to wonder if they are wrong or going crazy for having those suspicions.
- Emotional effects – Living with someone in the family can be a traumatic experience with many ups and downs occurring in the daily routine, there will be feelings such as anger, confusion, desperation, guilt, shame and helplessness.
- Physical effects – Gradually the family members will begin to feel the effects the stress is having on the family and the constant worry of wondering what will happen next will take its toll. Family members can begin to feel the effects on their health such as anxiety, depression, digestive problems and re-occurring headaches. It can also get to the point where family members may even be thinking of suicide as the only way out of the problem.
What can be done to help?
When things finally come to a standstill and any resemblance to a normal way of family life has long since passed relatives may then finally seek help, while they alone may not be able to help the addict overcome the addiction they have at least taken a large step in the right direction.
They will have at least faced the fear of change and when one family member steps away from that vicious circle others will quickly find the courage to do the same. Once realization and acceptance that something has to change is made then the family can begin together planning how they can help the person overcome the addiction and work together as a family once more.