Living with an addict UK

Addiction is a concern that presents challenges to individuals and also to their families. They often have to manage the ripple effects of living with an addict. 

Below, we aim to address the challenges that families face when dealing with the addiction of a loved one. That means from the initial recognition of the problem to the navigation of treatment options and aftercare needed post-recovery. 

Living with an “addict”

Addiction is often described as a “family disease,”. It affects not only the individual struggling with substance use but also the entire family system. This term acknowledges that the effects of addiction extend beyond the individual.

Family members living with an addict may experience a wide range of emotional and psychological effects. These can include chronic stress, anxiety, guilt, shame, and depression. The unpredictable behaviour of the addicted individual can create an environment of constant uncertainty and fear. In turn, this leads to emotional distress among family members.

The addiction can disrupt normal family roles, leading to dysfunctional interactions. Speaking in terms of psychology, family members might take on specific roles subconsciously as a way to cope. These roles include the enabler, who inadvertently supports the addiction; the defender, who strives to keep the family’s appearance intact; the scapegoat, who draws attention away from the addiction through their own behaviours; the mascot, who uses humour to diffuse tension; and the lost child, who withdraws to avoid conflict.

Both structural and strategic family therapy are approaches that can be particularly effective in treating the family dynamics affected by addiction, which we will explore in further detail below.

How family dynamics negatively influence recovery

Family dynamics play a critical role in both exacerbating and alleviating the challenges of addiction recovery. Various family roles and interactions can either support or hinder the recovery process.

Enabling and codependency:

Enabling behaviours in families living with drug-dependent individuals involve actions that protect the addict from the consequences of their addiction, such as providing money for drugs or covering for their addictive behaviours. This inadvertently encourages the continuation of harmful behaviour. Co-dependency is related but extends to emotional or psychological reliance on maintaining the addiction, often due to a desire to keep the family unit intact or fear of confronting painful truths. Enablers and co-dependent family members, though well-meaning, prevent addicts from facing the necessary realities and challenges required for recovery.

Conflict and emotional strain:

Families living with an addict may also become entangled in heightened conflict and emotional strain. This can manifest through regular disagreements, breakdowns in communication, and an atmosphere of mistrust and emotional instability. Such environments can exacerbate the addict’s stress and cravings, making recovery more challenging.

Supportive and communicative environments: 

Conversely, families that go for open communication and provide genuine support can create a conducive environment for recovery. This involves expressing concerns without judgement, actively participating in therapy sessions, and educating themselves about the nature of addiction and the recovery process. 

Positive roles families living with an addict can play in recovery

When family members are educated about how difficult and nuanced addiction is, they can move past misconceptions and blame, adopting a more supportive approach. Here are ways in which that manifests:

1. Participating in family therapy: Engaging in family therapy can be transformative. It offers a platform for all family members to express their feelings safely and learn healthier ways to interact and support each other. This therapeutic setting helps mend trust and improve communication, crucial for the recovery journey.

2. Offering emotional support: Emotional support involves being present and listening without judgement. This support includes acknowledging the struggles of recovery and providing encouragement and love, which are essential for the emotional well-being of the person in recovery.

3. Learning about addiction: Families that take the initiative to learn about the nature of addiction can avoid the pitfalls of blame and stigma. By understanding the biological, psychological, and social aspects of addiction, families are better equipped to provide meaningful support and avoid enabling behaviours.

Setting boundaries is also a key element in supporting a family member’s recovery. Boundaries help define what is acceptable and what is not, providing clear expectations and consequences. 

Moreover, promoting accountability involves specific actions like:

  • Establishing clear consequences
  • Encouraging professional help

Challenges families face during recovery

Individuals are not the only ones grievously affected by addiction and the damage it can bring; families suffer too. With that in mind, recovery programs and groups, such as Families Anonymous, are available to guide families in need of emotional support.

Families often face several challenges during this period, including rebuilding trust, managing relapses, and balancing expectations.

Rebuilding trust: Trust is often severely damaged by the behaviours associated with addiction, such as dishonesty and unreliability. Rebuilding trust is a slow process that requires consistent effort and open communication. Families can benefit from attending therapy together to improve their communication skills and understand each other’s experiences and emotions during the recovery process.

Dealing with relapses: Relapse can be a common part of the recovery journey and represents a significant challenge for both the individual and their family. It’s crucial for families to understand that relapse doesn’t mean failure but an opportunity to reassess and strengthen the recovery plan. Support from addiction recovery professionals and involvement in support groups can provide the necessary guidance during these times.

Managing expectations: Both the recovering individuals and their families may have expectations about the recovery process that might not align with reality. It’s important to set realistic expectations and be prepared for the ups and downs of recovery. Education about the nature of addiction and recovery can help adjust these expectations.

The impact of family therapy and support groups

Family therapy is a crucial component of addiction recovery, providing numerous benefits to both the individual and their family members. 

Family therapy educates participants about the nature of addiction, helping to reframe it as a medical issue rather than a moral failing, reducing stigma and blame. 

Several therapeutic approaches can be integrated into family therapy to address addiction, including:

Structural family therapy: This method focuses on adjusting and strengthening the family system to support the individual’s sobriety.

Strategic family therapy: This approach addresses specific behaviours within the family that contribute to the addiction cycle.

Systemic therapy: Systemic therapy looks at the broader network of relationships influencing and affected by addiction, trying to bring about positive change within this larger system.

Family therapy and support groups are invaluable in addiction recovery. They not only aid in resolving immediate issues related to addiction but also equip families with the tools and knowledge needed for long-term support and relapse prevention.

If your family is suffering, InnerLife Recovery offers comprehensive family counselling services to address the unique challenges families face, particularly when dealing with the presence of addiction. All of our counsellors possess the unique advantage of having suffered some form of addiction throughout their lives. This allows us to address your issues from a professional standpoint and a personal one too.

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