Substance Abuse: A Family Member’s Perspective
The family of an addict is influenced in many ways due to the effects of the addict’s behavior. Family members sometimes suffer in silence with overwhelming feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and sadness. Those affected can include anyone in the addict’s family including mothers, fathers, in-laws, brothers, sisters, children, spouses, and grandparents. Any person who is part of the addict’s life is affected. There is a level of unpredictability in a substance abusing home and many family members say that erratic behavior of the addict leads to this unpredictability. The family members just do not know what to expect day to day.
The family member learns not to trust the addict and there is consistent stress within the home. It is almost as if the family’s foundation has been shaken and the home is unstable. The majority of this instability has to do with the addict’s behavior. The addict may spend days away from home with no contact with family members or lose a job and have no financial resources with which to pay bills or other debts. The instability can also create a need for other family members to take on much of the responsibility of the home. This causes resentment, hate, anger, and even fear.
Trust is diminished to the point where anything the addict says is not believed by others. This often leads to the family member or members avoiding the addict, as they simply do not want to deal with the dishonesty or the denial the addict exhibits.
Each family member of an addict is different and no two families experience the same feelings or the same problems. Some family member’s experience more isolation or instability than others do. One common component that is seen with addictive families is enabling behavior. Often a parent or someone close to the addict will enable the addict’s behavior by protecting them from the consequences of their addiction. Such enabling behaviors include paying debts for the addict or giving them money with which to buy drugs or alcohol. The enabler may feel like they are helping the addict but in reality, this only perpetuates the addiction.
The family of an addict can be rebuilt through treatment and overcoming the denial that keeps the family in the addiction. It is important for the cycle of denial to be broken and for one or more family members to ask for help.