Many addicts justify their actions with the phrase “It only affects me.” That statement could not be further than the truth. Addiction affects everyone in an addict’s life; friends, families and coworkers are not exempt from the pain of addiction. In an attempts to feed their addiction, a person will do many things such as lie, steal money, become unreliable, and lash out. Part one of this three part series focuses on how addiction affects the family. Stay tuned next month for how addiction affects friends and coworkers.
Supporting an addiction is expensive. Funds that typically would be spent on food, shelter, clothing, etc. are often channeled into the addictive substance. This can put great strain on a spouse, children, or parents. Addiction leads individuals to steal, lie, or lose their jobs. Studies show that addiction can cost up to ½ of a person’s income. That financial strain causes stress, tension, and often unmet physical needs.
Family members, especially children, tend to develop dysfunctional characteristics in an attempt to cope with the family member’s addiction. They can develop learned helplessness, depression, anxiety, trust issues, hypervigilance, engage in high risk behaviors, or become addicted themselves. These conditions can prevent individuals from living a healthy life. For example, a person who develops hypervigilance as an attempt to cope, will always be looking for danger in every situation, preventing them from connecting with people or even focusing effectively.
When a family member is struggling with addiction, it is easy for other members of the family to experience shame, self-pity, resentment and worry. Families of an addict start to withdraw from friends, neighbors, etc. in an attempts to hide the addiction from them. It is common for family members to feel shame or to blame themselves for the life choices of their sibling, parent, child or spouse. This can lead family members to attempt to become perfect, thinking that maybe if they were just a little better, the addict would change their behavior. This negative pattern can lead to feelings of failure, exhaustion and depression. These negative emotions start to become almost like a drug to the family members, and they can become stuck in patterns of negative self-talk.
Family members need to recover from the effects of addiction just as much as an addict needs to recover. Trying to help a family member with addiction is an exhausting task. With help from support groups and therapists it is possible to recover and learn positive ways to cope with the addiction.
Kris Groves is a Advanced Substance Use Disorder Counselor and has been working in the field of substance abuse since 1996. Kris is the Program Director for Renaissance Ranch. She has worked in general outpatient and intensive outpatient programs. As a volunteer for the Family Home Evening Program at the Utah State Prison, Kris educates women about addiction and recovery. As a family systems specialist, Kris works specifically with the shame-based family system model that addresses the family needs as well as the needs of the client. Kris’s passion and commitment for people and assisting them in their healing and recovery is a great joy for her.
Drug Abuse and Children
When parents are addicted to drugs, the children in the home often suffer even more serious consequences. In severe cases you might forget to take proper care of your children, causing them to miss meals, miss school, miss doctor’s appointments, or go without groceries and clean clothing.
Even for parents who are able to meet the basic needs of children, drug abuse can lead to job loss or inability to get a job, which makes it impossible to pay for groceries, utility bills, rent or mortgage payments, and other essentials every month.
Drug abuse can also put your children in serious danger, especially if you are unable to control yourself while you are on the drugs. The danger for children increases when parents or someone in the household is dealing drugs or committing other crimes to support a drug habit, and eventually you might even lose your children by going to prison.
Drug Abuse and Pregnancy
Finally, drug abuse can have serious consequences for women who are pregnant. Taking any type of drugs—either illegal or prescription—can cause serious health problems for your unborn baby. The most common problems that babies experience are:
• Low birth weight
• Trouble eating and sleeping
• Problems with development of eyes, ears, and muscles
• Developmental problems, including learning disabilities
• Behavioral problems, especially once the child reaches school age
Friends and Family’s Role in Identifying Addiction
In several different areas, friends and family are hugely important for addiction recovery and treatment. At Renaissance Ranch, family involvement is one of our foundational principles during both our residential and outpatient addiction programs.
In some cases, certain parts of the recovery process are elements only friends or family can really complete. A key example here: Identifying addiction symptoms in a high-functioning addict. Many people are able to keep some of the more debilitating parts of their addiction away from the world, and may even be able to keep the entire disease a secret for months or even years. As a friend or family member close to them, it’s up to you to be able to tell the small signs that might signal a problem. Let’s look at a few of these telltale signs.
Many forms of addiction, especially drug and substance abuse, are known for the way they take over a person’s daily life. This often manifests in missed appointments or dates, or major forgetfulness for important tasks.
In these cases, many high-functioning addicts will always have a litany of excuses. Many of these make sense individually, but as part of a larger pattern, they can be telling. In cases where they have monetary or other life success, they’ll often use this as a justification for laziness or forgetfulness.
Friends With Addiction Issues
The people closest to us are often those we imitate, and even if you aren’t directly seeing the signs of drug abuse or substance abuse, close friends might give it away. Do you really believe that your loved one spends every night with binge drinkers or drug users, but stays totally away from that stuff themselves? It’s highly unlikely at best, and you’re justified in looking into it.
People struggling with addiction often have major trouble in the morning. Things like headaches or inability to wake up at proper hours are common. They’ll have excuses here, as we noted – “I’m not a morning person” or the like. But in reality, if this is constantly happening, these could actually be hangover or withdrawal symptoms.
Another common sign of addiction is the way it replaces some of the things that are most important in your life, and you’ll be able to notice this in people close to you. All of a sudden, hobbies that used to consume them for hours don’t interest them at all. They spend more time alone, or in unknown places. Their disinterest is often apparent even in basic daily conversations – they may appear distracted or flighty.
Helping Family Member Copy with Addiction
Family and loved ones are an absolutely vital part of addiction recovery and treatment for those struggling with substance abuse or other addiction issues, but it’s important to remember that this is a two-way street. At Renaissance Outpatient, we promote a family support structure for our patients which both prioritizes their needs and keeps the struggles of affected family members in mind.
These struggles are real, no matter how much anyone might try to downplay them. Watching someone close to you deal with the pain of addiction is no small matter, and addiction can damage more than one life. Here are some tips for coping as a family member or close friend of someone undergoing addiction treatment.
One of the biggest struggles many of us have while supporting someone dealing with addiction is a simple lack of knowledge that makes it hard to truly understand what they’re going through. Becoming more informed will not only help you feel empathy, but will allow you to recognize any negative or enabling traits you’re exhibiting from your end. You’ll learn how to avoid blame and let go of anger when you understand more fully what you’re dealing with.
Family and Private Therapy
Most people assume the first of these areas, but far fewer pay attention to the second. Family therapy sessions are a vital part of outpatient addiction treatment at Renaissance Outpatient, but too many family members neglect themselves and fail to seek their own private, individual counseling.
Some people feel embarrassed, as if they don’t deserve to seek their own therapy for issues that aren’t even “theirs,” but this is the wrong mindset. Providing proper support means making sure your own two feet are on solid ground, too.
Stay Together, Stay Positive
Beyond therapy, the more togetherness you can promote as a family, the better. Eat meals together, and try to schedule at least one weekly event you can all look forward to. Promote positive messages and find ways to bring joy, whether in a group setting or on your own. Dealing with addiction – both for the sufferer and for those close to them – can take a major toll on happiness, so finding ways to counter that in daily life is vital.
Keep it Regular
There’s nothing “regular” about dealing with substance abuse or other forms of addiction, but it’s important that you find ways to enjoy a somewhat normal life in stretches. Keep a normal sleep and waking schedule, and try to get regular exercise while eating a healthy diet. It’s common for the stress of helping someone with addiction to overwhelm some of these daily tasks, but staying as grounded as you can will help you maintain balance.