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Addiction And The Effects On The Family

The following is a short article on how a family is affected by addiction from the National Counsel on Alcoholism and Drug Dependencies website.


Addiction is a family disease that stresses the family to the breaking point, impacts the stability of the home, the family’s unity, mental health, physical health, finances, and overall family dynamics.

Living with addiction can put family members under unusual stress. Normal routines are constantly being interrupted by unexpected or even frightening kinds of experiences that are part of living with alcohol and drug use. What is being said often doesn’t match up with what family members sense, feel beneath the surface or see right in front of their eyes. The alcohol or drug user as well as family members may bend, manipulate and deny reality in their attempt to maintain a family order that they experience as gradually slipping away. The entire system becomes absorbed by a problem that is slowly spinning out of control. Little things become big and big things get minimized as pain is denied and slips out sideways.

Without help, active addiction can totally disrupt family life and cause harmful effects that can last a lifetime.

Support groups such as Al-Anon and Nar-Anon are available for the friends and family of people suffering from addiction (alcohol and drugs, respectively). While these support services are important for making connections with others who may be trying to navigate day-to-day life with addiction in the family, so is seeking  professional therapy. Individual therapy for each family member, not just the addict, is important for the mental health of both the addict’s spouse or partner and children, and meeting with a therapist as a family can help improve communication among family members, rebalance the family dynamic and give family members a safe environment to express their anger, fear and other concerns. Family therapy may also be helpful in preventing the children of addicts from succumbing to the disease themselves.

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Ther Family Recovery Process After Treatment Part II

There are a few areas which need to be addressed for the newly recovering person and how they deal with their family through all the new recovery stuff.

If your family was with you through your active addiction most likely they will be there for you during your recovery. That can be good and bad depending on your perspective. Often family members who sat back and watched an addict through the darkest times are thrilled to be involved when things begin to turn around.  The problem is when the attention becomes overwhelming to the point of smothering.

I will mention a phrase now that I want you to burn into your memory for the period of early recovery: it is only temporary. Early recovery is a process and with luck you will only have to endure it once. After a period, you will move successfully into the next stage of recovery.

Families which have endured addiction often times have boundary issues. It comes with the territory. You may have hidden yourself away in a dark hole somewhere to do your addiction business or maybe you were the type to let it all hang out on the front lawn for the neighbors to see. Regardless your family may be eager to know what’s going on with you now that you are back in society.

They have shared your misery so why not let them share your joy? Your parents, wife or husband may be legitimately interested in all this Recovery business you are talking about and would like some inside information.  Remember, it’s only temporary. Clue them in; tell them what you need to do on a daily basis. If you attend 12-step meetings, find one that is open to the public and have them come along once or twice to get an idea of what goes on during these meetings. The more they know, the more they will relax and, at some point, they will realize you’ve got this “Recovery” thing under control.

You may also find that “Trust” is a big issue. Constant questions of where are you going? Who are you talking to? Who just texted you? When will you be home? Questions and attitudes like these may plague your early recovery. The husband who is greeted at the door by his wife’s kisses only to realize he had just been subjected to another “Sniff” test to see if he smelled more like Ralph Lauren or Sam Adams can be deflating. 

Well, guess what? You earned this mistrust. It does not go away overnight.

But, it is only temporary.

There will also be those loved ones who don’t care about what you are doing as long as you get better and stay that way. That is their choice as well.

In this case you need to stay close to those that are assisting you in your journey of recovery and stay on track. It does not matter in the long run what your wife, husband or great aunt thinks of the addict or alcoholic in the family. What matters is that you keep doing what you need to do. Your success or failure will have little effect on your great aunt’s beliefs. When it comes to recovery, I firmly believe you need to recover for yourself first. 

Another area where I see newly recovering people running into issues is the quick fix approach to recovery.

So often for the newly recovering addict or alcoholic there is a burning desire to repair what was broken, to set things right to a point where they believe things had been before everything had gotten so out of control. Issues with finances, employment and, yes, family can be corrected with just the right amount energy and persuasion. Although overtime may work in the workplace, family and loved ones are not so easily swayed.

Keep in mind that recovery is a process. If everything goes well, you will not be the same person you were prior to getting clean and you would not expect your loved ones to want the “old” person they knew back. They want the new and improved version! In that light, try not falling into the trap of wanting everything back (including your family) the way it was. The most important aspect to remember is the process of recovery and not get stuck fixating on the end results. All this takes time.

Time: That aspect of life that no alcoholic or addict ever dealt with properly, time was a concept that was cheated by fast deals and quick fixes is now the medicine that will heal those wounds that have been inflicted on those so close to them.

Stephen King who makes his own recovery very public put it best in his book, On Writing:

“At the worst of I no longer wanted to drink and no longer wanted to be sober, either. I felt evicted from life. At the start of the road back I just tried to believe the people who said things would get better if I gave them time to do so. . . Little by little I found the beat again, and after that I found joy again. I came back to my family with gratitude and back to my work with relief-I came back to the way folks come back to a summer cottage after a long winter, checking first to make sure nothing has been stolen or broken during the cold season. Nothing had been. It was all still there, still all whole. Once the pipes were thawed out and the electricity was turned back on, everything worked fine.”

Early recovery is a process and it is only temporary.


-Frank say

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The Family Recovery Process After Treatment Part I

With good reason, there is always a lot of attention focused on the recovery intervention process and getting an addict into treatment but not as much attention on what comes after the inpatient stay and what the family and the individual face on a daily basis in recovery. Because recovery as well as addiction can affect the entire family, I have decided to divide this blog article into two sections. The first section which follows is directed towards the family of a newly recovered individual. The second part, which will focus on the individual, will follow shortly.

Getting an individual successfully into treatment is just one step of the recovery process not only for the individual but for the family and loved ones as well. I have often heard people say, regarding an individual’s addiction, that they just want the old husband, wife or son back; the person they used to know before all the craziness of addiction began.

Often times in recovery what they get is a whole new person they have never met! Who is this person?  What the heck are they talking about? Where was this person when we were on the alter saying “I do,” twelve years ago?

What’s worse is that you newly recovering person may be going about their business with their new recovery lifestyle, seemingly happy as ever and you are sitting back watching doing a slow burn.

“Why am I so miserable,” you might ask? “Why are Feelings of anger, jealousy, resentment and fear rising at a time that realistically should be filled with relief and happiness?”

What you are feeling is very normal.

One reason for this is the feeling of helplessness. The same helplessness that you dealt with during your loved ones active addiction is now present in recovery but for a different reason. Your recovering person is learning new skills and ways to cope with the outside world and in many ways, they have to go it alone.  Another negative emotion that is common is resentment. This resentment is not aimed so much towards your recovering loved one but towards the institutions, self-help groups and new friends your loved one has found in recovery that have somehow pulled your husband, wife or child out of active addiction where you have been unsuccessful. No one knows your loved one more than you, yet that knowledge and unconditional love could not do what a handful of strangers were able to accomplish in a 28 day rehab stay and a month of 12-astep meetings.

It does not seem fair.

To add insult to injury, you may have a well-intentioned counselor tell you to be patient while your loved one is going through this change from addiction to recovery.

You have been patient. You have asked friends and neighbors for help, read countless article online about enabling, prayed, talked to you family doctor, talked to your family priest or spiritual advisor and now you are being told once again to pull it together, keep calm and carry on.

There is another option. Approach you husband and tell them how you feel. Let them know you are happy for them to be turning their life around and you would like to know more of what they are experiencing in recovery. Maybe even go to one or two 12-step meeting with them if it is agreeable. Many 12-step meetings are open to the public as long as you check the listing of the meeting first. Keep in mind this is about everyone’s individual comfort level. No one should feel pressured to do something they are not ready for yet. Having a loved one in active addiction is an isolating experience. Recovery does not have to be that way.

Also consider that initially your loved ones recovery will be a fulltime job. Keeping up an active addiction takes a lot of time, effort and planning on the part of the addict so recovery should require no less attention. The good news it will balance out. When you wife or child gets steady in their recovery they will begin to integrate more of the outside world, more of their family responsibilities into recovery and begin to live what most people would call a normal life. That is the goal after all!

My golden rule is if you are feeling a certain way, tell your loved one. It’s cheaper than therapy.

Frank Say 2/16/2017

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