By Hugh C. McBride
If one of your family members is struggling with alcoholism or drug addiction, there are two important facts that you need to know:
Addiction is a family disease, and understanding how this disease can impact and be affected by the actions of others can significantly improve your chances of making the best decisions for yourself and for your addicted family member.
Codependency & Enabling
Relationships among addicted individuals and their loved ones are often described using the terms "codependency" and "enabling." The following are solid general definitions of these terms:
Codependency – In her book, Co-dependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself, author Melody Beattie describes codependency as "a pattern of detrimental, behavioral interactions within a dysfunctional relationship ... A codependent person is one who has let another person's behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person's behavior." Beatty's book also lists the following common thoughts and feelings that are often experienced by codependent individuals:
If someone you love is struggling with an addiction, you understandably don't want this person to lose their job, their family or their health as a result of their substance abuse. But as the definitions of codependency and enabling make clear, taking what you might rationalize as "helpful" steps may actually have the opposite effect – you may actually be allowing the addict to continue abusing drugs, and may be enabling the addiction to exert greater influence over your family.
Sticking to the Script
Though you've often used the word "drama" when describing the problems that addiction has visited upon your family, you may never have realized that you and your relatives are actually playing well-defined roles and following a dark script.
The following are six common roles that may be played by members of families whose lives have been impacted by addiction:
Helping the Addict, Healing the Family
Clearly, one person's struggle with addiction can both impact and be affected by the decisions, actions and behaviors of the entire family. And though most family members of addicts would state their desire to see the addict overcome the disease, in truth this healing may be subverted by the other family members' refusal to abandon the codependent and enabling roles they have been playing.
To address the role of the family in addiction and alcoholism, most effective addiction recovery programs incorporate family support, family therapy and other types of family involvement into the treatment plan.
For example, at Passages to Recovery, a wilderness-based recovery program for young men, staff members have been trained in Systemic Family Intervention, a supportive method for identifying, assessing and addressing the various ways that addiction impacts the entire family.
And at Sober Living by the Sea, a network of residential recovery programs for men and women who are dealing with substance abuse and eating disorders, clients' loved ones have the opportunity to participate in a monthly family program that educates them about recovery-related matters and helps them develop the skills to support their family member's effort to achieve lifelong sobriety.
Addiction can feel like an isolating experience, but it actually has an impact that is felt far beyond the individual addict. During your search for the most effective treatment plan for yourself or someone you love, be sure to find a program that incorporates family support.