People aren’t born addicts. To clarify, research indicates that there are biological or genetic factors that can make an individual more susceptible to alcohol and drug addiction than others, but such individuals aren’t innately addicts by birth; rather, such individuals are at higher risk of developing an addiction if they choose to experiment with substance abuse.
However, there are other factors that can contribute to the development of addiction in addition to genetic, such as one’s environment or circumstances, and one’s development and behavior play a part as well. As such, the disease of addiction develops as a result of a confluence of factors, attacking the individual from all directions under physical and even psychological dependency to alcohol or drugs occurs.
When an individual suffers from active addiction, he or she experiences a number of effects or symptoms as a result. For example, one’s physical health deteriorates as well as one’s psychological and emotional health and even social and spiritual health are adversely affected by alcohol and drug dependency. It’s often these effects that one thinks about when considering addiction, but the addict is not the only one who suffers due to the disease.
On the contrary, everyone in the addict’s life—family members, friends, parents of addicted loved ones, and others who are close—is adversely affected by an addict’s dependency. In fact, this is why addiction is often colloquially referred to as a family disease because an individual’s addiction affects many others to varying levels as well.
For the family members or parents of addicted loved ones, it can often be confusing to determine how best to help a loved one who is suffering from alcohol or drug addiction. Even though only one person suffers from the disease directly, the loved ones of an addict suffer from a number of indirect effects that range from having to witness the deterioration of a loved one to the addict stealing from members of his or her family to sustain a substance abuse habit.
While there are a number of ways to approach the situation, not all of them are helpful and some of them can be quite harmful. In fact, many experts tend to agree that the best way to help an addict is to first ensure that one’s own needs are met first. Here’s why helping oneself might be the best way to help a loved one addicted to alcohol or drugs.
Addiction: The Family Disease
Chemical dependency and addiction have often been called “the family disease” for a couple important reasons. First, there’s the tendency of alcohol and drug addiction to run in families, which is considered proof of both the genetic and environmental factors in the susceptibility and development of addiction.
In particular, there have been countless studies conducted on the children of addicts, which have by and large determined that individuals who grow up with one or both parents addicted to alcohol or drugs are at exponentially higher risk of becoming alcoholics or drug addicts themselves. What’s more, when parents are frequent substance abusers there’s a much higher incidence of physical or verbal abuse of their children, which opens up a whole other host of potential lifelong problems. Children of addicts tend to smoke cigarettes much more often—even starting at a much younger age—and suffer from depression as significantly higher rates than their counterparts who grow up without addiction in one or both parents.
Another reason that addiction is a family disease is that it has a profound effect on each member of a family, more than just the addict him or herself. As mentioned above, when a parent suffers from addiction, it can have a profound effect on their children, making them more susceptible to substance abuse themselves, more likely to develop depression and anxiety, or even result in verbal or physical abuse.
When it comes to parents of addicted loved ones, their effects are different while still incredibly harmful to the family unit, such as a loss of trust when addicted children steal money or valuables from their parents or other family members in order to support their alcohol and drug addictions. Whether it’s a parent, child, or another family member who is suffering from chemical dependency, the effects are numerous and extensive, resulting in a lack of understanding, ineffective or destructive communication, and so on.
Parents of Addicted Loved Ones: Enabling and Codependency
When addiction has developed in the family unit, oftentimes codependency can develop as well, or become more exacerbated if it existed already. Codependency is a type of dysfunctional relationship in which an individual enables an addict’s addiction for fear of being abandoned or rejected by the addict. The enabling behavior affords the individual feelings of approval and validation while either encouraging, allowing, or turning a blind eye to the addict’s harmful, destructive behavior.
In codependent relationships, one individual relies on the addict’s chemical dependency in order to feel secure because enabling the addict helps the addict to continue abusing alcohol or drugs, making the addict likewise dependent on the enabler to an extent. Oftentimes, the enabling, codependent individual will sacrifice his or her own needs for the sake of the addict. What’s more, the enabler sometimes maintains denial over the reality of the situation, believing that the enabling behavior is actually helping the addict in some way.
Support vs. Sacrifice: Helping Yourself Helps the Addict
Sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish between caring and encouraging and being co-dependent or an enabler, which is more or less the difference between being supportive and sacrificing one’s own well-being for the sake of someone else. Those who are codependent typically fail to meet their own needs, instead focusing on meeting the needs of the addict. While it can be difficult to determine what one can do to best help a loved one who is addicted to alcohol or drugs, it’s often said that the best way to approach the situation is instead focused on oneself instead of the addict and his or her needs.
This can mean:
- Taking the time to educate oneself on addiction and recovery so as to be as informed as possible regarding the addict’s disease
- Finding a support group that’s specifically for the parents of addicted loved ones
- Making the home as drug-free and conducive to sobriety and safety as possible
- Ceasing to shield an addict from the consequences of his or her actions
- Ceasing to provide financial support to the addict
- Setting boundaries and consequences for continued substance abuse and destructive behaviors
- Avoiding self-blame, and;
- Spending time doing things for oneself like making sure to relax and enjoy a leisurely activity on occasion.
It’s often said that before one can take care of someone else, one’s own essential and basic needs must be met, which has shown to be especially true of caring for an addict. Being the parent or family member of an addict can be a very trying, emotional time, which makes it even more important not to let one’s own physical, psychological, emotional, social, or spiritual health fall by the wayside, which won’t cure an addict of their dependency anyway.
What’s more, support groups intended for those with addicted loved ones—such as Al-Anon, Alateen, Nar-Anon, and Narateen—have been infinitely helpful by offering families and parents of addicted loved ones an encouraging, supportive network of individuals who have been through the same experience and can offer valuable insight and advice, or even just a receptive outlet in which to vent thoughts and feelings.
Learn More About Addiction Recovery Programs Today
If you or a loved one is suffering from alcohol or drug addiction and would like to learn more about recovery and addiction treatment options today, Drug Treatment Center Finder is here to help. We have a team of experienced, professional recovery specialists who have helped countless addicts overcome chemical dependency through an addiction treatment program. Don’t wait—call us now so we can map our your journey to a healthy, sober life.