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Family Dynamics in Addiction

Addiction is often referred to as a family disease. When one family member is struggling with substance abuse, everyone else is also affected. Family members tend to take on specific roles in their relationships with the addicted individual, some of which can be detrimental to their ability to recover.

Some family roles can lead to negative relationship dynamics like codependency or enabling. A codependent person will put the needs of other over the needs of him or herself in an effort to maintain a relationship, even if it is mutually toxic and destructive. Their need to be loved and avoid rejection often keeps the issues of addiction from being openly discussed, which may exacerbate a loved one’s addictive behaviors.

Enabling is a destructive behavior rooted in codependency. Alvernia University explains: “Enabling takes place when someone helps or encourages the addict to keep using alcohol or drugs, directly or indirectly. This person, who is often also a codependent, might give the addict money hoping that it will lead to recovery. An enabler might also lie for the addict or hide the addict’s behavior from loved ones.” Direct, clear, and open communication are necessary for a family with a loved one struggling with addiction.

The University of British Columbia describes the “rules” in a dependent or addicted family: “Dependents use of drug is the most important thing in a family life. Drug use in not the cause of family problems, it is denial which is the root. Blaming others, don’t make mention of it, covering up, alibis, loyalty of family enables. Nobody may discuss problem outside the family. Nobody says what they feel or think.” These rules often make the problem much worse and allow the addict to continue their behaviors at the expense of the entire family’s well-being. Recovery often encourages family to examine their behaviors in relation to their addicted loved one. Through emotional honesty and direct communication, these family issues can often be mended in order to help the addicted loved one as well as the entire family.

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