Often, there are relationship dynamics that exist when a family member is addicted to alcohol or drugs. Frequently, certain roles develop in a family that result from trying to protect or enable the one struggling with the addiction. Those roles can become so ingrained and entrenched that a whole family system can become dysfunctional and harming to everyone involved. Often, those most affected in the family are children and teens.
While someone in the family remains in their addiction, there is often experiences of codependency and enabling. For instance, codependent relationships often include a dysfunctional relying upon the other person in the relationship. One or more of those in the relationship feel powerless to the events that are going on their life. The belief in being powerless in life leads to a dysfunctional relying on the other person for things that one can and should do on their own. When someone is codependent on another in a relationship, it will become more and more difficult for that person to find his or her own power.
It is often the one who is struggling with the addiction that has lost his or her power. And as a result, the rest of the family members end up enabling or trying to help that person. The pattern of enabling often appears like assisting someone. However, there is a large difference between providing assistance and enabling one’s bad habits. For instance, to help someone is to assist in a task that he or she cannot do alone. For example, this might be calling the pharmacy when your spouse has lost his voice from strep throat. However, enabling is completing a task that someone can do on his own but an addiction or another bad habit prevents that person from being able to do so. For example, enabling is paying the bills for an addict who hasn’t or refuses to work because of his addiction. It’s common to see one of the partners in a relationship do things for the other that he or she could be and should be doing for himself. Although enabling is common among families with addictions, it is a dysfunctional pattern that can occur in any family or relationship.
Central to the roles of a family with addiction is codependency and powerlessness. As children in those families grow up and enter relationships, those same patterns can exist, even if neither one in the relationship experiences addiction. The same is true with experiences of powerlessness. To the extent that powerlessness is woven into the fabric of a family’s daily functioning, it can lead to patterns of caretaking, low self-worth, controlling, denial, poor communication, weak boundaries, anger, and lack of trust. Fortunately, becoming aware of the ways that addiction affects the entire family facilitate healing family relationships.
Starting Addiction Treatment
For these reasons, when the addict starts addiction treatment, it affects the entire family. There is no longer an “identified patient”. There is no longer someone in the family who is seen as sick, helpless, powerless, or weak. There is no longer a need for everyone in the family to rescue that person or attempt to make life better by doing tasks for him. When an addict gets treatment, the family has an opportunity to find their homeostasis again. Although it’s not going to happen overnight, there is at least a chance for healed relationships.
Frequently, addiction treatment might include therapy or counseling in which the family is involved. In this form of therapy, family members can explore relationships in order to better manage the stresses they are facing. Also, close family relationships can become supportive for those involved versus detrimental. When an addict gets treatment, there’s an opportunity for healing and transformation, not only for the recovering addict, but for everyone.