Addiction and the family are inextricably linked. It is not only the addict that suffers. The lasting impact addiction leaves on families can often be devastating, yet too often overlooked. The affects, though different, are overwhelming and disturbing, whoever the family member is.
Experiencing a child’s addiction and the family will feel helpless. The fact of the addiction, whether to drugs or alcohol, will ripple into all areas of their everyday lives. Work, friendships, relationships with partners and other siblings will all be impacted. The fact that they have lost the child they had to the curse of addiction and alcoholism, that they feel unable to protect and guide their child can cause unbelievable distress. Psychologically they may experience anger, regret and confusion, causing stress, depression, and the desperate need to find a coping and survival mechanisms previously unconsidered. No matter how old the child is, parents will feel responsible, blame themselves and feel like failures.
Addiction and the family goes the other way too. Children who experience an addicted parent may feel many of the emotions described above. Anger, despair, sadness and uncertainty, leading to fear and extreme feelings of being unsafe and insecure. Parents are a child’s lifeline; young children especially look to parents to survive. It is terrifying to different degrees, dependent on age, to comprehend they are not present for you. They will do almost anything to keep the parent with them, and most sadly, blame themselves for the parent’s behaviour. Linking the parent’s addiction and the family dynamics in a logical fashion, children will inevitably feel that if they did or didn’t do something, everything would be different. Children of addicts and alcoholics may become very angry. They may witness violence and suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. They may suffer sleep disturbances, wet the bed, and experience anxiety and depression. Children in homes where there is reduced stability are also at a higher risk for sexual abuse. Normal relationship lines are blurred, communication has broken down, and behaviour that would not normally be allowed are tolerated. Addiction and the family are like chalk and cheese. They should not co-exist. But they do, too often.
Regardless of the individual circumstances it is important to be aware of the abnormality of the situation, and to accept the difficulty and effects of addiction and the family and the ripple effect it has. It is imperative to look ahead, move forward and find a way to deal with the actual problem at hand. People don’t get addicted to drugs to hurt their families; the pain that is caused is merely one of the many unpleasant side effects of addiction.
No matter how old you are, you may want to consider seeking some form of outside help. The path to recovery is long, difficult and demanding. You shouldn’t have to travel this path alone.
Whether you are a family member, or an addict coming out of detox, I believe counselling is an important part of sustaining a healthy and contented lifestyle. Addicts are obviously at risk of relapse after leaving a treatment program. Regardless of the well formulated plans and contingencies put into place by reputable rehabilitation centres, it is useful to recognise that during treatment you have experienced much psychological support and protection from temptation. While you should feel proud of your achievement so far, it is imperative to be aware that returning to normality socially and demographically, and the reality of everyday pressures such as work and family are certainly dangerous triggers to resuming addiction and the family trauma.
It is easy for one thing to trigger a downward spiral. It is easy maybe to forget the causes that drove you into recovery at the beginning. Motivation can easily diminish.
Regular counselling incorporating avoiding relapse into addiction and the family difficulties, will continue to reinforce coping strategies to deal with life on life’s terms. Real life, just like rehab centres will be full of ups and downs, good days and bad, and traumatic emotional experiences. Attending regular therapy as part of an eclectic program of growth and abstinence will help you through the dark or difficult periods. We all struggle to cope with life and it is important to acknowledge that as an addict you have been using unhealthy methods of doing so, which must change. And the same goes for all involved in addiction and the family dynamics distorted by the addict, the alcoholic, and the learned, mainly unhealthy responses to the problems.
Therapy will help you discover the reasons you turned to substance abuse. Therapy for family members will help them let go of the trauma suffered. All elements, for all involved can be analysed and addressed in a safe, non-judgmental environment, allowing self-awareness, and encouraging the addict, the alcoholic, and all affected, to recover in unison. Addiction and the family are inextricably linked, as can be recovery for all.
Stephanie Wolfe – PG Dip BACP
Psychotherapist and Counsellor, UK Aftercare Consultant at SafeHouse Rehab Center Thailand.