The Family

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Even though one person may be suffering from substance use disorder, the person’s addiction affects the entire family. During a treatment program, the family is incorporated. There are many reasons why this is done. 

The Family Organization

Families form units that are much more than the individuals that make them up. Every family has its organization, and members develop ways of acting and reacting with each other. They also develop ways with others outside of the “organization.” The patterns of interaction between family members give each family a certain balance and style related to areas such as:

  • How feelings are displayed (or how they are not)
  • How conflict is managed (or avoided)
  • Expectations (what’s been said and what hasn’t)
  • How family issues are communicated outside the home
  • What roles and responsibilities are assigned—consciously and unconsciously

All of these factors help shape the personality and behaviors of each member of the family.

When any part of the family organization is changed, it leads to changes in all parts of the system. Like a mobile hanging from the ceiling, each part is connected to the other parts, and if one piece is moved, all of the other parts move.  

As it relates to families, this connection can work in a variety of ways. When one family member—for instance, a parent—is overly responsible and controlling, this influences the attitudes and behaviors of the other family members. Adult partners and children both usually respond by becoming less accountable.

And when a family member struggles with an active addiction, he or she usually behaves irresponsibly. This also shapes the behavior of the other family members who typically respond by becoming more controlling and overly responsible. 

How Addiction Affects the Family Unit

Whenever a family member struggles with any serious ongoing condition, everyone in the family is affected. The balance of the family system shifts as each member changes and adjusts to the situation. These changes occur subtly, slowly, and unconsciously.

There are several characteristics of interaction, one or more of which are likely to be present in a family that includes parents or children abusing alcohol or illegal drugs:

  • Negativism. Communication among family members is negative, taking the form of complaints, criticism, and other expressions of displeasure.
  • Parental inconsistency. Erratic rule setting. Inconsistent enforcement. Inadequate structure. Children are confused because they can’t figure out the difference between right and wrong.
  • Parental denial. Despite warning signs, parents deny the presence of a problem.
  • Miscarried expression of anger. Children or parents who resent their emotionally deprived home are afraid to express their feelings and use drug abuse to manage their anger.
  • Self-medication. Either a parent or child will use drugs or alcohol to cope with severe anxiety or depression.
  • Unrealistic parental expectations. I expectations are unrealistic; children can excuse themselves from all future expectations. The thinking is, “You can’t expect anything from me. I’m just a junkie/pothead/drunk.” Or the reverse which is obsessive overachieving. Feeling that no matter what they do it is never good enough. If expectations are too low, and children are told that they will fail, they tend to conform their behavior to the parents’ predictions.

In all of these cases, a restructuring of the entire family is needed. This includes the relationship between the parents and the relationships between the parents and the children.

About the Emotional Rollercoaster

Addiction wreaks havoc in families and relationships and stresses everyone in the organization—parents, children, siblings, spouses, partners, close friends, etc. Active addiction destabilizes the home environment and disrupts family life. It often compromises finances as well as mental, emotional, and physical health.

Without assistance and practice in how to do things differently, this imbalance will become chronic and long-term.

A family member’s addiction raises many difficult questions that you can’t understand. Conflicting emotions, including guilt, shame, self-blame, frustration, anger, sadness, depression, anxiety, and fear may leave you feeling like you are riding an emotional rollercoaster and can’t get off.

Like any other chronic disorder, no family is immune from addiction. Addiction to alcohol and other drugs afflicts people regardless of age, income level, race, ethnicity, and religion. Anyone can become addicted, and anyone can become affected by another person’s addiction.

Are You Contributing?

You didn’t cause your loved one’s problem, and you have learned rather painfully that you can’t control it. However, there are ways in which family members often contribute to the problem without even knowing it.

In situations where one person is substance dependent, and the others are not, a question of codependency comes up. Codependents Anonymous (CoDA) describes codependency as being overly concerned with the problems of another to the detriment of attending to one’s own wants and needs. Codependent people are believed to have several patterns of behavior:

  • They are controlling because they believe the addict is incapable of taking care of himself.
  • These individuals typically have low self-esteem and a tendency to deny their feelings.
  • They are overly compliant and will compromise their values and integrity to avoid rejection or anger.
  • The individuals often react in an oversensitive manner and are overly vigilant to disruption, troubles, or disappointments.
  • They remain loyal to people who do nothing to deserve their loyalty.

The term “codependent” was initially meant to describe spouses of those with alcohol abuse disorders but it has come to refer to any relative of a person with any type of behavior of the psychological problem.

The Effects of Addiction on Children

Substance abuse can lead to inappropriate role-taking. For example, in a family in which a mother uses substances, a young daughter may be expected to take on the role of the mother. When a child takes on the role of the parent, and the parent takes on the role of the child, the boundaries essential to family functioning are blurred. This robs the child of her childhood unless there is intervention by supportive adults.

The spouse of a person abusing substances is likely to protect the children by assuming the parenting duties that are not being fulfilled by the addict. If both parents abuse alcohol or illicit drugs, the effect on children worsens. Extended family members might have to provide care and financial and psychological support. Grandparents frequently assume this role.

Sometimes a neighbor or teacher brings child neglect situations to the attention of child welfare services. Most of the time, these situations go unreported and neglected.

Recovery for Family Members

A process for recovery is available to family members and significant others of addicts to promote their health and well-being. This process involves becoming consciously aware of the specific ways in which addiction affects families and relationships. Members learn a new set of skills that need to be practiced on an ongoing basis.

One of the challenges family members and significant others face in getting help for themselves is that they believe the problem is with the addicted loved and not them. As long as they cling to that belief, the problem usually continues to get worse.

For family members of someone struggling with addiction, the necessary foundation of recovery is the conscious awareness and non-judgemental acceptance that everyone is responsible for their behavior in any situation. So the only part of the problem that you can change is your part. The only thing you can change is you. This is the essence of the recovery process.

10 Survival Tips for Family and Loved Ones of Addicts

Face reality—Learning how to deal with reality is an important first step in surviving when you love an addicted person. Things will not get better just because you wish they would.  

Discover how to love an addicted person and remain healthy—Learn how to set and maintain appropriate boundaries. You may need to explore the reasons why you have a problem doing that. Learn some assertive techniques that will help you say “yes” when you mean yes and “no” when you mean no. Look after your own life.

You can’t “fix” another person so stop trying—The only person you have any control over is yourself. You don’t have control over anything the addicted person does.

Stop blaming the other person and look at yourself—It may be tempting to blame the addict in your life for your struggles, but it is more valuable to look at what you may be contributing to the situation since that is the only thing you can do anything about.

Learn the difference between helping and enablingYou probably fear that if you don’t provide help to your addicted loved the one he or she will end up in a worse situation. When you try to help by giving money, allowing them to stay in your home, driving them around, or going back on boundaries you have already set, you are not helping. That is enabling. When you stop enabling behaviors, you can begin to help.

Don’t give in to manipulation—The least favorite work to an addict is “No.” Addicts become master manipulators when they are not ready to change. The fear of stopping is so great that they will do anything to avoid being honest with themselves or anyone else. The more you allow yourself to be manipulated, the more they will try to manipulate.

Ask yourself the “Magic Question”—You might be just as addicted to your enabling behaviors as the addict is to his manipulation. Your enabling behaviors may be helping to keep you busy and fill up your life so that you don’t have to see how lonely and empty you feel inside.

“Self-care” does not mean “selfish”—Self-care means that you respect yourself enough to take good care of your physical, mental, and emotional needs.

Rebuild your own life—The best way to end your addictive behaviors such as enabling and people-pleasing are to focus on your own life.

Don’t wait until the situation is really bad—When those who love an addicted person finally reach out for help, they have usually been dealing with the situation for a long time. If you are waiting to see if things will get better without professional help, the short answer is “No.” Get help now.

Our Family Program

At Northbound, we look to heal not only the victim of substance abuse but also the family that is also suffering from the effects of seeing a loved one in the grip of addiction.

The family addiction counseling treatment in Orange County is a monthly program designed to help families repair relationships damaged by drug and alcohol abuse. The program incorporates group counseling, lectures, and Al-Anon meetings over four days, and is designed to help family members reconnect and understand the roots of addiction.

The family members of the alcoholic or addict often have difficulty dealing with a whole range of emotions, including helplessness, confusion, and anger. The Northbound Family program helps family members understand that they can’t control their loved one’s addiction, nor can they cure it.

The program is among the best available treatment options for families and is included in our comprehensive fee. Priority in the Northbound family program is reserved for those in our community who would most benefit from participation. To get the most help in repairing the family system, Northbound turns to therapists and addiction treatment experts outside our center in addition to our clinicians.

The Northbound Family Program Addresses:

  • Codependency
  • Family Roles
  • Medical Disease Model of Addiction
  • Healthy Communication
  • Family Recovery

Our program provides:

  • Healing time for families
  • How to avoid being trapped by manipulation
  • Focus on personal care
  • Opportunity to meet with Case-Manager and Therapist Structured time with a loved one in treatment

The Northbound family addiction recovery in Orange County is among the best available treatment options for families in this particular situation. It is included in our comprehensive fee, and depending on availability, will be reserved for those who would benefit most from participation.

During this process, Northbound with enlisting the aid of additional therapists and addiction treatment experts to help bring the family back together.

We also recommend and make available Parent CRAFT an evidence-based, interactive online course that teaches you how to effectively interact with your children to change drug and alcohol behavior and guide them into accepting treatment.

Get the Help You Need Today

Call Northbound Treatment Center at (866) 511-2458. You can also reach out to our addiction treatment specialists by contacting us here.






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