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Addiction is sometimes referred to as a family disease because it affects everyone in the addict’s life and also because underlying issues and contributing factors are often shared among family members. How does addiction function as a family disease?

For some families, addiction is genetic, and we pass the traits onto our children. Families with multiple addicts, living with multiple forms of addiction, are not uncommon. In addition to the physical genetic components, there are mental and emotional traits we can inherit. We absorb the emotional environment around us, and any toxicity we experience informs the very foundation of how we operate in life. For example, if we witness our parents fighting rather than resolving conflict, resorting to violence and abuse, we’re more likely to repeat these patterns because that is our emotional foundation. Parents who struggle with addiction usually can’t hide it from their children. We are affected by our parents’ addictive behaviors. Even if we don’t know that it is addiction causing these behaviors, we are impacted. Even when we aren’t consciously aware that we’ve been affected, energetically we can’t help but absorb the energetic unhealthiness of our family members.

When we are modeled behavior that teaches us to suppress our emotions, to avoid them through escapism and to deny we have a problem, we are predisposed to continuing these destructive emotional patterns. Many of us were taught to pretend anger and sadness didn’t exist. We never learned how to resolve conflicts amicably or disagree respectfully. We didn’t learn how to have control over our intense emotions, and we learned to resort to abuse, whether it was abusing ourselves or others. Just as we might be violent if we’re exposed to violence, we may be more self-harming if that’s what we’re exposed to. Many of us saw family members turning to drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling or other destructive, addictive behavior when they were stressed out, angry or depressed. When we grow up seeing our family members struggle with addiction, that is what becomes familiar and comfortable to us. Some of us are surrounded by addiction and don’t know anyone who doesn’t live with some sort of addictive behavior.

Exploring the roles our family members have played in our addiction can help all of us heal. We can choose to approach the healing process as a communal one, one in which we’re all seeking emotional freedom, rather than trying to heal in isolation.

At Riverside Recovery, we understand the importance of treating addiction in the family as a whole. Our treatment programs offer weekly family therapy sessions and monthly family workshops. Call (800) 871-5440 for more information.