When someone is struggling with addiction, the disease impacts the entire family system. It causes a ripple effect, like throwing a stone into a quiet pond. Circular waves emerge on the surface of the water, quickly moving outward in a concentric pattern and disrupting the previously calm, glassy water. No matter how hard a person tries, their addiction eventually causes “ripples” in the lives of those who love them the most.
The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence calls addiction a family disease. It puts family members under a great deal of stress, disrupting routines and causing fractures in relationships.
As a result, family members often develop unhealthy coping strategies as they desperately try to maintain some kind of balance in the household. Eventually, the family unit becomes a fragile and dysfunctional system that unwittingly contributes to the addiction as the family adopts destructive behaviors as a result of it.
This article will discuss:
- How addiction effects the family
- Understanding opioid and alcohol addiction
- Signs of opioid or alcohol addiction
- Co-occuring disorders
- The family’s role in recovery
Let your loved one know that you care and that you want to help.
How Addiction Affects the Family
Addiction has the power to undermine even the strongest of loving relationships and affect family members on every level: emotional, psychological, financial, and social. Common examples include:
- A parent’s constant need to drink alcohol or use opioids can lead to child neglect or abuse.
- The use of alcohol and drugs can lead to a family’s financial hardship or poverty.
- The shame of a son or daughter’s intoxicated behaviors can lead to social isolation and the avoidance of potentially judgmental friends or relatives.
Worst of all, addiction undermines the loving, trusting bonds that sustain a healthy family. Children are often forced to step into a parental role for parents who can no longer care for their younger siblings. Spouses hide their substance use from husbands or wives, lying about their actions or engaging in harmful behaviors to prevent being exposed. Parents go to great lengths to “rescue” an addicted son or daughter from addiction, only to experience heartache when the child returns to active substance use.
Understanding Opioid and Alcohol Addiction
If you are concerned a loved one may be addicted to opioids or alcohol, understanding the nature of addiction is extremely important.
In the past, experts believed addiction occurred when someone needed a substance in order to function without suffering withdrawal. Today, however, experts like the National Institute on Drug Abuse understand addiction is both a complex brain disorder and a mental illness that is defined as a “chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking, continued use despite harmful consequences, and long-lasting changes in the brain.
Signs of Opioid or Alcohol Addiction
The following checklist can help family members and loved ones identify the potential signs of addiction. The degree of intensity for each sign depends on how long a person has been misusing opioids or alcohol.
Physical Health or Appearance:
- Poor grooming or disheveled clothing
- Unwanted weight loss or gain
- Pale, cool skin
- Dilated pupils
- Nausea, diarrhea, vomiting
- Puffiness or bloating
- Drowsiness at inappropriate times of day
Mood or Behavior:
- Mood swings
- Unprovoked outbursts of anger
- Sadness or crying
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Irrational laughter
- Social isolation
- Unexplained memory loss
- Delusional thinking
Employment or Educational Status:
- Absenteeism at work or school
- Poor or declining performance at work
- Job termination
- Decline in grades at school
- Loss of interest in favorite school activities
It is important to mention that, opioid or alcohol addiction is rarely a person’s only mental health issue. For those who struggle with both substance abuse disorder and mental illness (depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder etc.), the diagnosis is called a co-occurring disorder (sometimes referred to as a dual diagnosis).
According to reports published in the Journal of the American Medical Association:
- Approximately 50 percent of all people with severe mental disorders are affected by substance abuse.
- Roughly 37 percent of alcohol abusers and 53 percent of drug abusers also have at least one serious mental illness.
- Of all people diagnosed with mental illness, 29 percent also abuse either alcohol or drugs.
“A lot of programs will try to treat either the mental health disorder first, or drug addiction first, but you can’t do that successfully. You have to treat both simultaneously,” according to Dr. John Tsuang, Clinical Professor at the Department of Psychiatry, Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
Co-occurring disorders require specialized treatment, so it is important for patients and family members to seek out providers who are qualified to treat both areas.
The Family’s Role in Recovery
According to the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, family involvement in the recovery process is one of the most significant factors in predicting long-term abstinence after treatment.
Some of the actions you can take to promote a loved one’s long-term recovery from opioids and alcohol include:
- Attend family counseling sessions as recommended by your loved one’s treatment team.
- Support and uplift your loved one by maintaining a positive attitude about their recovery.
- Educate yourself about substance misuse, addiction, and recovery.
- Address any conflicts, emotional roadblocks, or resentments that could prevent a sober environment at home.
- Remove all opioids and/or alcohol from the home, along with making other changes recommended by your loved one’s treatment team.
- Take part in family support groups, workshops, and therapeutic activities as your loved one progresses through a medication-assisted treatment program.
Family members should be aware that painful issues and uncomfortable feelings often make their way to the surface during counseling. While it can be painful to address these issues in the moment, it’s possible to reach a long-term resolution when the family is willing to wholeheartedly participate in the therapeutic process.
Keep this in mind throughout your loved one’s recovery journey, especially during difficult times: working through the feelings of discomfort and pain that arise in therapy can ultimately lead to stronger, healthier, and more trusting relationships within the family.
Get Help for the Whole Family
At SaVida Health, we understand addiction is a disease that affects the whole family. To be successful in recovery, we believe it’s essential to include the entire family instead of focusing solely on the person who is struggling with addiction.