The Healing Place

Addiction Is a Family Disease

Addiction Is a Family Disease

Addiction is a family disease. Those living with loved ones in addiction often believe that the problem lies with that person. If that person would just stop drinking or using all of the family problems would go away. This is never the case because families are deeply affected in many different ways over the life of a loved one’s addiction.

When alcohol or drugs are introduced into a family system, the family’s ability to regulate its emotional and behavioral functioning is severely challenged. The family’s ability to maintain homeostasis or stability is in constant flux but it will continue to balance itself in alcoholic homes. This balance often becomes a dysfunctional sort of balance as families are consumed by their loved one’s disease and lose their sense of normal. Family life revolves around their loved ones addiction, whether that is hiding the addiction, minimizing and containing problems to keep the family from blowing up, or being overly pleasing or overly withdrawn. Life is organized around trying to manage the unmanageable disease of addiction. Because the disease is progressive, family members fall easily into patterns of relating that become increasingly more dysfunctional. Everyone walks on eggshells, being hyper vigilant and ready to run for emotional (or physical) shelter or put up defenses at the first sign of trouble. One family member addicted to alcohol and drugs means the whole family suffers. Addiction is a family disease that stresses the family to the breaking point, impacts the stability of the home, the family's unity, mental health, physical health, finances, and overall family dynamics.

Addiction can totally disrupt family life and cause harmful effects that can last a lifetime if help is not sought. No family is born with the knowledge of how to deal effectively with addiction so skills must be learned and practiced every day. The biggest challenge to family recovery is the belief that fixing the addicted person will fix the family. It’s common to hear family members say, “She’s the one who needs help, not me!” Helping families understand that they are responsible for their own recovery is just as critical as an addict being responsible for theirs.It is essential that solutions are designed to restore the whole family and just as there is a recovery solution for addiction there is one for families as well.

For more information on help for families contact Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, Alateen, or the Adult Children of Alcoholics.