When it comes to addiction, the addicts themselves aren’t the only ones affected. Their families and loved ones are also profoundly impacted, sometimes irreparably so.
Addiction takes over our lives in various ways, and one of the ways it can be most destructive is how volatile it can make people. Addicts can be hostile, abusive, even violent, with the people around them. Their loved ones can live in fear of the next outburst. They might walk on eggshells hoping not to trigger them. They might avoid talking about certain subjects or avoid coming into contact with them altogether. They might have been physically or verbally attacked by the addict in their family. Fear for their safety might prevent family members from trying to intervene even when they desperately want to help.
Because of the stigmas that prevail, as well as the shame that addicts internalize, there is often a culture of silence and secrecy surrounding addiction. Families often have to deal with their loved one hiding things from them – hiding bottles or drugs, concealing relationships, engaging in addictive behaviors in secret. Addicts might lie or be defensive when confronted about the issue. They might try to place blame elsewhere, change the subject, or transfer the issue onto someone or something else. Families not only have to deal with the devastating behaviors of addiction but also all of the attempts to cover them up.
Families are energetically connected, and we pick things up from each other, often without being conscious of it. We learn patterns from one another. Families living with addiction might develop the same patterns that stemmed from the addiction – the abuse, the conflict, the avoidance, the secrecy and deceit. We don’t operate in isolation, and our patterns don’t happen in a vacuum, so it is very possible for our families to develop the same patterns we developed because of our addictions. We often live in turmoil and conflict as a result.
Having to cope with a loved one’s addiction can be one of the hardest things a family has to live with. We can start to blame ourselves and feel ashamed. We think we are at fault for our loved one’s addiction. We question where we went wrong and what we did to contribute. We can become highly stressed, worried, anxious and depressed. The weight of a family member’s addiction can be overwhelming and very depressing.
Riverside Recovery offers family therapy and family workshops as part of its treatment programs. Call (800) 871-5440 for more information.