Addiction and Alcoholism is a family disease in that it affects the family as a whole and each member individually. For an individual, living with alcohol and drug abuse means putting oneself in harmful environments filled with disruptions to normal routines, the tension of strained relationships, and dishonesty. It weighs heavily on the family system in the same way. Addiction impacts a family’s finances, physical health, and psychological wellbeing.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) one in every three people will develop a clinically significant alcohol problem at some point in their lives, and one out of eight people will become dependent on alcohol. Given these statistics, it is important to consider the significant impact substance abuse has on the individuals within a family system and the family system as a whole.
Emotions are a common part of recovery. It is important for families to acknowledge , express, and work through their feelings . If they are stuck, and can’t resolve some of the old conflicts or past issues, it may be useful for them to seek help through support groups or counselling. Some of the most common emotions that families experiences are: sadness, unhappiness, discouragement, dissatisfaction, and apathy; They also experience the following:
- Guilt: We often feel responsible for a family member’s addiction. This can lead to feelings of guilt.
- Anger When facing the never-ending challenges of addiction, family members may feel overwhelmed, frustrated and angry at the world, or at the addict.
- Denial and shame addiction is frequently hidden from others. Family members feel the need to “protect” their family and keep addiction secret, or help cover it up.
- Stress Family members suffer physical and emotional distress from being caregivers to the addict
- Old or unhealthy patterns of behavior: In times of stress, people may fall into unhealthy patterns of behavior that interfere with effective communication and decision making.
In any form of family therapy for substance abuse treatment, consideration should be given to the range of social problems connected to substance abuse. Problems such as criminal activity, joblessness, domestic violence, and child abuse or neglect may also be present in families experiencing substance abuse.
At least when parents have teens and adolescents who have substance use disorders, they have some level of power in that they control the finances and the household. This power can be wielded to get them to accept treatment and cease substance abuse. With parents of adult addicts, however, the ability to impose consequences for substance abuse or the unwillingness to seek treatment is greatly diminished. This holds even truer when the parents live separately from the addicted daughter or son.
A family evolves with each individual change, both positive and negative, creating an ever ebbing and flowing system. The impact of substance abuse on the family system can be very complex and if not addressed can have a significant impact on all members of the family, throughout all stages of life and into the next generation. Evidence suggests family therapy provides the best outcomes for the substance abusers and the family.
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