Addiction recovery is not only a life changing event for an addict, it’s one that affects their whole family. Family members who are going to be supporting a recovering addict need to understand that they’re going to go through some changes, too. Families who are part of this process need to be flexible and optimistic. They should be open to group or individual therapy as well to help them adjust to new life patterns.
When someone is struggling with an addiction, it changes their family dynamics, even if they don’t realize it. Things become imbalanced as family members take on additional responsibilities and change their own reactions to situations in order to compensate for the addict. They may be doing this to protect children, to avoid conflict, to preserve relationships, or all of the above. The family adjusts to functioning (however dysfunctionally) in this altered state of balance. Addiction recovery will upset this balance all over again as the whole family learns to interact without the presence of the addiction.
One example of a shifting dynamic due to addiction is between spouses. For example, if the wife is struggling with addiction, the husband will have to compensate for her deteriorating lifestyle by picking up the slack. He may have to take on the bulk of child rearing and maintaining the home. He may be doing these things in addition to his regular job and other responsibilities. He may even find himself in a parenting role for his wife as he tries to take care of her and keep her safe and healthy.
In this scenario, when the wife enters rehab, the changes that occur may make things uncomfortable for the husband. He may not trust the wife to resume her family responsibilities and may want to prevent her from doing so. The children may be hesitant to let their mother help them with things that their father has been doing. The husband may find himself trying to oversee her actions and decisions, even though she feels ready to do this on her own now. He may also have expected some things to change through recovery that are actually still the same, which may be disappointing or confusing.
This is just one limited example of how addiction recovery affects the whole family system. Families are built on complicated, intricate relationships, and each of these individual relationship can be drastically changed when an addict enters recovery. These changes are not bad or undesirable. They are simply different and may be difficult to internalize. This is why it’s so important for the family members of an addict to also receive professional help during this process.