Understanding The Family’s Role In Addiction

mother and daughter hugging

It is said that addiction is a family disease and anyone who has experienced the range of feelings that comes with watching your loved one sink into addiction knows this is true. Addiction can tend to “run” in families, and adult children of addicts sometimes end up married to addicts, and then they sometimes have children who become addicts, and so on.

If you are the parent, child, sibling or spouse of an addict, you may feel hopeless, frightened, angry, frustrated and confused at any given time. More than anything though, you probably just want to help the problem go away.

How Addiction Affects The Family

Addiction can wreak havoc on a family. It causes a ripple effect that can be felt in marriages and relationships within the family. It can create friction between not just the addicted person and members of a family, but other members as well. For example, parents may disagree on how to address their child’s addiction problem, and this can cause problems in the marriage. Parents of an addicted child may have less time for their other children because they are spending so much time and energy with their addicted child.

Financially, addiction can be devastating, and emotionally, it is draining. Family members who are busy worrying about and trying to control their addicted family member may neglect their own self-care. It is common to experience depression, anxiety and sleep problems.

How Family Dynamics Can Hurt Recovery Efforts

Whether they are your child, spouse or parent, you love them and you would do anything to help. It comes naturally to care for those we love and to want to help them in any way we can. Unfortunately, when it comes to addiction our best efforts may do more harm than good.

Family dynamics can get in the way of the addicted person getting the help they need. One common example is enabling. What does this mean? It means that in an attempt to protect or support your family member, you are keeping them from getting help. Maybe you are afraid that if you withdraw support they will end up on the streets. Maybe they know how to guilt you into giving in to them. Maybe you keep bailing them out of jail. Or, maybe they really need you to confront them but you haven’t because you don’t know how.

The point is, sometimes you have to step aside in order to really help your loved one.

What Family Can Do To Help

Each family is different, but there are some guidelines that can be helpful in most situations. Love and support are absolutely essential, but there are times when the most loving thing you can do is stop helping. Here are some suggestions for supporting your family member’s recovery from addiction.


Talking about addiction isn’t always comfortable or pleasant, and it’s common for people to be tempted to avoid it, to minimize it, or even to cover it up. Tension grows and you grow more resentful, but you just don’t want to “stir the pot.”

Confrontation is good. Even if they deny it or get angry, it’s important to lay the cards out on the table and let them know you know what’s going on. By being honest, you are opening the door for dialogue.

prisoner in handcuffs

Allow The Consequences To Happen

This is particularly difficult for parents of addicts. When your son or daughter has a problem, you want to step in and solve it for them. You want to protect them, shield them from the harsh realities of life. So you cover for them, bail them out, pay their bills or fines, lie for them, etc.

This isn’t helping. At some point, you have to let them fall. This may mean spending some time in jail. It’s okay, they may get a program, or have to be on probation. Many an addict has finally gotten clean because the law intervened. You can’t save their job for them, or their relationships. If they are going to continue the behavior, there will be consequences. When they are tired of them, they will get help.

Be Willing To Take Action And Follow Through

Addicted family members may be counting on you to help them continue their lifestyle. As long as you continue supporting them, they really have no reason to stop. If you have gotten into the habit of threatening to kick them out, withdraw financial support, leave the relationship, etc. it may be time to finally commit. You might have to throw them out. You might have to stop giving them money. It’s hard, but it will ultimately help them.

Getting Help For An Addicted Loved One

Other ways you can help include finding them treatment, so when they are ready to go, the process will be simple. Sometimes, family members decide to hire a professional intervention specialist. This can be surprisingly effective. If you want to know more about treatment for your loved one, or how to schedule an intervention, Recovery Hub can help. Call 888-220-4352 to learn more.

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