02 Oct Addiction is a Family Disease
While addiction very clearly affects the person who is using, the way that it affects the rest of the family (and the way that the rest of the family affects the addiction) isn’t always as clear. But one thing is for certain: when you are dealing with families and addiction, everyone is affected and everyone is involved.
According to Dr. Murray Bowen’s Family Systems theory the family is an emotional unit, and in order to understand any individual you must understand the unit as a whole. So an alcoholic family is one in which both alcoholism (in the active alcoholic) and alcohol related behaviors (in both the alcoholic and the other family members) have become the central principles around which the family structures itself.
For example, Daughter is an active alcoholic. Mother is codependent and consistently covering up for Daughter. Father and Mother are having marital problems in relation to Daughter’s drinking and how to handle it. And Son feels neglected because the focus is always on the Daughter and how much she is drinking.
Now, if alcoholism were an individual disease, then once Daughter stopped drinking, all of the problems would be resolved. But this isn’t true. Once Daughter stops drinking, the problems still exist within the family. Son still feels resentful for not getting enough attention, Mother continues with her codependency in worrying about Daughter relapsing and Father and Mother still feel tension in their marriage. The family is not magically healed once Daughter puts down the bottle. The family, as an emotional unit, has to heal as a whole.
That’s why it is essential for any family dealing with alcoholism, whether they are the active/recovering alcoholic or not, to seek some sort of treatment or support.
If your family is dealing with alcoholism, there is help available for everyone in your family. Some things you might want to consider are:
- Seeking out both family and individual therapy
- Researching rehab facilities or recovery communities
- Attending 12 step support groups, such as Al-Anon or Alateen
- Creating a family plan, with clear boundaries on how to deal with situations such as relapse
- Attending an intensive program geared at the family unit
- Practicing self care
- Keeping open and honest communication within the family system regarding emotions related to alcoholism
Alcoholism/addiction is a chronic disease, and while there is no cure, there is certainly treatment. Whether you or someone in your family is struggling with alcoholism/addiction, it is essential to seek out help and support for everyone involved. It can be overwhelming, but taking steps in the right direction to heal not only the alcoholic, but the entire family unit, can make a world of difference.