Many professionals in the field of addiction feel that loved ones and family members actually suffer more than the actual addict. While addicts may die physically as a result of the disease, family members often experience deaths of another kind.
When we refer to addicts, we are talking about people who abuse substances (alcohol, drugs, food, etc.) and those who engage in harmful, compulsive behaviors (gambling, shopping, etc.)
It may not be difficult to see the impact addiction has on the addict; it is often clearly visible in a number of ways, including the following:
- Severe or rapid weight loss or weight gain
- Poor grooming – failure to shower, shave regularly, etc.
- Behavior – Mood swings, stealing in order to support their habit
- Isolation from friends and family
The effects that addiction has on the rest of the family members may not be as blatantly obvious, but the family is often negatively affected in many ways:
- Loss of Trust: The addict has lied so many times (in order to cover up their behavior) family members no longer feel they can be trusted. Losing trust in a member of a family has far-reaching emotional and psychological effects that can last a lifetime. Children who grow up with parents that cannot be trusted often grow up feeling they can not trust anyone.
- Financial Stability: As addicts progress in their disease, they must use more and more often in order to reach the high they are looking for. This applies to drug addicts as well as gambling and shopping addicts as well as others. When the main focus of the addict is to get more of what he needs, he will spend the money earmarked for the mortgage, groceries, utilities, etc. As a result, the family may suffer by losing their home; not having enough to eat; inability to buy clothing or school supplies, etc.
- Emotional Stability: Families (particularly children) who live with addicts are impacted emotionally. Stripped of trust, family members may also suffer from feelings of fear, shame, guilt and lack of self-worth
- Physical Safety: Any addiction may lead the addict to violent (sometimes dangerous) behavior. Increased domestic violence is often seen as the disease progresses. The family may become homeless and resort to living in unsafe conditions. If the addict is a parent, children may be put in harm’s way when they are forced to live where drugs are produced (meth labs) and around other unsavory individuals.
- Isolation: Once family-friendly activities (such as swimming, bowling, etc.) no longer interest the addict so the family no longer participates either. Isolation also comes in the form of living in a “secret” environment. Because of the addict’s behavior friends and family who were once welcomed visitors, are no longer.
- Complete Loss or Breakdown of the Family: The worst-case scenarios find the addict dying, jailed, or otherwise institutionalized, changing the entire dynamic of the family. Many, many marriages are not able to withstand the barrage of problems that come with addiction; divorce rates are extremely high in this group.
It is important to remember: At any stage in the addiction process, the addict can recover if they are willing to begin the recovery process. Help can be found in twelve-step programs, treatment centers and in receiving one-on-one counseling.
Frequently, family members will try many times (and in many ways) to convince the addict he/she has a problem – usually, to no avail. No one can help an addict until they realize they need help. Families can find help in coping with an addict through 12-step programs like Alanon and Alateen. When the addiction is so strong that the family is being impacted on many levels or if there is violence present, it might be wise to put some physical distance between the family and addict.