Addiction is a Family Disease

Families come to us for help because a loved one is trapped by addiction. Often families have been stretched to the breaking point, perhaps even beyond, in the struggle to deal with the “problem.” Addiction replaces trust, harmony, and serenity with lies and manipulations, uncertainties, hopelessness, fear, angst, and anguish.

Because addiction affects every person in a family, the whole family should be part of the treatment process, not just the identified patient. At Caron we say, ‘The patient is the family, and the family is the patient.’ That is why it is important to talk of “family recovery.”

Often family members lack an understanding of addiction, as well as the importance of boundary setting and accountability. They tend to enable their addicted family member by covering up for them, excusing their behaviors, blaming others, doing tasks for them, and believing without verifying. This behavior often results in the addict not getting much-needed help and the family becoming reactive, anxiety-ridden, fault-finding, and conflict-stricken.

Every family is different, but successful recovery follows the same general framework:

Surrender your outdated strategy

Families need to pause and accept that their approaches to dealing with the addict aren’t working. They must surrender their old ways to truly embrace recovery. Only then can they begin the work to develop healthy strategies.

Nix the urge to fix

The notion that the family is the primary answer to the issues surrounding the addict is patently not true. That’s a huge burden to bear. At some point, the individual must embrace and manage his or her recovery. The family can be supportive, but the primary answer doesn’t lie with the family. It lies with the individual.

Create a united front

Family members of an addict may have personal conflicts or disagreements. However, our experience shows that a family working together in the recovery process can make a significant difference in helping the addict to recover. If the family is unable to present a united front, then it leaves room for addicts to take advantage of the split, which can ultimately jeopardize their recovery. It’s critically important that when the family recognizes the split that a professional is utilized to provide guidance and support.

Hold the addict accountable

There’s often a lot of finger-pointing in a family affected by addiction, shifting blame from one to another. Families must hold the addict accountable for his or her behaviors. There must be appropriate boundary-setting, expectations and structure.

Invest your energy wisely

With so much energy being directed towards the addict, the healthier relationships in the family often crumble in the face of addiction. The family must put energy into safeguarding their relationships. This can be achieved by using professional guidance and fellowships such as Al Anon and CoDA meetings. Prior to family treatment, they may not have possessed the ability to express themselves in a healthy way. With guidance and support, family members will be able to open the lines of communication, voicing their fears and frustrations with regard and respect while holding each other accountable.

Engage in tailored family therapy

Effective family therapy should be based on the needs of each family member and the relational dynamics in the family system. Goals should be clear and family members should be exposed to couples counseling, family sessions, as well as other therapeutic groups.

In conclusion, it’s important to remember that all families have their own culture, their own language, and their own family dynamic - with each family member playing their own role in that dynamic. There’s no one right approach to recovery. Family recovery may include the addict, or it may not. For some family members, recovery may mean gaining the ability to walk away from their addicted loved one and moving in a different direction. For others, it may involve working on and safeguarding themselves and other relationships. Most importantly, the family needs to know that they’re not alone, that there are millions of families in America impacted by the disease of addiction and that it’s possible to transform the family through quality treatment and recovery.

A man and a woman leaning on each other

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