Families In Recovery
The Family of an Addict Every family includes someone who is either suffering through an addiction, is currently in a rehab facility, or has, at some point, been actively addicted but has successfully completed rehab. Some may say that no one in their family is an addict, but that depends on your definition of family. For all, this includes immediate family and extended family, close friends, trusted friends, mentors and, for some, even fringe supports. Family is that large group of people who care about you and know you well enough that they are more than just casual acquaintances.
But, you may say, you still don’t know anyone who is an addict. Unfortunately, there are a great many more individuals who are addicted to something than are willing to admit it. Addiction is a physical and emotional response to some substance or action that the individual is completely powerless over. It can be alcohol, a drug, food, sex or any number of other things. It is a mental disorder and it is not helpful to think of addiction in terms of morality or willpower. People become addicted to substances and actions because they develop an obsession. They are not morally weak, nor do they generally speaking lack the willpower to just quit. It is an unhealthy means of coping with life’s pressures.
That being said, family groups very often include individuals who are addicted to some action or substance and the other members of the family group either do not acknowledge it or they are completely unaware of what an addiction is. However, if you have an addict in your family, whether you know it or not, the group will be affected in adverse ways. How do family members deal with the addiction and recovery for that person?
The Family of an Addict Prior to Rehab
Prior to admitting that he or she is powerless, the individual may experience many of the negative aspects of an addiction. How can you recognize an addiction?
- Work and/or financial issues: the individual has trouble keeping a job or they are constantly having financial issues.
- Relationship disruptions: Whether with other family members or significant others, the individual is constantly involved in relational strife.
- Family distress: people recognize something is wrong and it causes them to act differently around this individual.
- Addict: The individual who copies the inappropriate behavior of the primary addict.
- Hero: This person does whatever needs to be done to “fix” the problems and keep everyone as happy as they can be under the circumstances.
- Scapegoat: This person distracts attention from the addict and attracts attention by behaving badly. The scapegoat is usually acting out of misdirected (perhaps even unconscious) anger at the pain that addiction has caused.
- Mascot: The family jester. Mascots divert the family’s attention from the pain and drama of their dysfunction by telling jokes and doing whatever else is necessary to keep other family members smiling.
- Lost Child: This person may also be referred to as the invisible child. The lost child is often overlooked to the point of being forgotten in the family of an addict.
- Caretaker: Also referred to as primary enablers, caretakers define themselves by their ability to “protect” the addict.
- Join a support group: You are not the only family going through the same exact thing.
- Attended family therapy sessions: to focus on improving relationships and sustaining sobriety, help with direct communication
- Abstain from drinking or doing drugs: for at least the first 3 months of recovery to avoid triggering a relapse. If you do not want to stop, ask family member in recovery if this decision is upsetting.
- Don’t put addict under surveillance.
- Talk about experiences: Give the addict encouragement such as
- I’d be interested in hearing about your meetings if you feel like talking about them.
- Are the coordinators helpful? Do they give good advice?
- Are there things we can do in the family to make it easier for you to attend sessions?
- Help families learn to keep an open mind about the ability to improve
- Groups can help families realize that it is okay not to trust the person with addiction in early months
- Attended Al-Anon groups to show support
- Find understanding
- Accept that this is not your fault
- Remove guilt and shame
- Figure out relapse plans