Is Addiction Tearing Your Family Apart?
Is the chaos created through a loved one’s issues with drugs or alcohol significantly impacting you and your family? Do you feel out of control and at a loss about what to do, yet keep desperately trying to keep or put your family back together? If it’s your spouse with the drug or alcohol problem, are you filled with fear, anger and resentment, especially if his or her use is affecting your children? Perhaps you’ve gotten to the point where you are tired of making excuses, missing out on important events and making up for his or her lack, but the shame and guilt of the addiction has you continuing to isolate and keep secrets. Or maybe it’s your teenager or adult child with the drug or alcohol problem and what you first thought was “experimenting” now has you deeply concerned. It might be that your teen is continually coming home drunk or high, no longer acting like his or herself and may already be in trouble with school and/or the law. Or, perhaps you are concerned about your parent’s drinking or use of prescription medications—feeling afraid, angry and/or responsible for him or her—and wondering if and how you can approach your parent without disrespect. Whether it’s your child, partner or parent with the problem, do you wish you knew how to get the person you love back and get off of the rollercoaster of addiction?
Loving someone with a substance abuse problem can be a chaotic, shameful and isolating experience. With so much energy focused on the addict, you may no longer have time for your self or your (other) children. If you’re the parent of an addict or alcoholic, you might feel deeply afraid, ashamed and/or consumed with guilt, wondering if you did something to cause the disease. If it’s your partner with the problem, you may feel completely overwhelmed, trying to hide the severity of his or her use from your children, the workplace, friends and other family members. Everyone might be walking on eggshells around the addict—whether actively using or in early recovery—careful to not give him or her a reason to use. Family members might be blaming each other when the addict does drink or get high, creating ongoing tension and even more chaos and disconnection in your household. And, you might feel like you’re slowly going crazy as the lies, attempts to control the addiction and keeping secrets are pulling you further and further away from your core values.
You Are Not Alone
If your family is struggling with the chaos of addiction, you are far from alone. Addiction is prevalent in our society. More than 20 million Americans over the age of 12 have an addiction and, of those, over 90 percent of them began drinking or using illicit drugs before the age of 18. And, for every person suffering from addiction, there generally at least four family members directly impacted by their loved one’s disease.
Addiction is considered a family disease for good reason. Addiction impacts everything and everyone around it. Much like the addict’s brain chemistry is altered by the drug and the drink, there is evidence that shows that the brain chemistry of loved ones of addicts also changes. In order to deal with stress, chaos and trauma, family members change their behavior and often adopt the same symptoms of their addicted loved one, such as minimizing, rationalizing, lying, keeping secrets, guilt, shame and self-blame. And, when the addict does get sober, many family members go through withdrawal as their brains have become so accustomed to the chaotic patterns of addiction.
In addicted families, the focus becomes solely on the addict, rather than on the family as a whole and its individual members. Children and teenagers living with an addict/alcoholic often adopt new roles within the family—which, if left unresolved, will likely be carried into adulthood—in an attempt to maintain/bring back a sense of normalization and stability.
Family Roles Include:
The Hero: The hero child tends to be a high achiever who takes on a lot of responsibility. He or she is generally rigid, perfectionistic and works hard to make the family look good on the outside. As a “perfect” child, the family is able point to him or her as an indication that no problem exists. The hero child carries the shame of the family.
The Scapegoat: The scapegoat child is generally always acting out, always in trouble and normally the only person in the family talking openly about the addiction. He or she often becomes “the problem” in the family, taking the focus off of the addict. The scapegoat child carries the anger of the family.
The Lost Child: The lost child tends to be quiet, spends a lot of time alone and lives in his or her own fantasy world. The more chaotic the household becomes, the more he or she tends to pull away. Often off in the corner, the lost child brings relief to the family because he or she doesn’t give anyone anything to worry about. The lost child is often very sensitive and carries the emotions of the family.
The Mascot: The mascot is often the class clown. He or she is playful, light and brings levity and comic relief the family, often breaking the tension. Although usually joking, the mascot is carrying his or her own insecurity and the weight of the family’s pain.
In addicted families, everyone is feeling guilt and shame, and they are all in fear. With addiction at the family’s center, all family members have become infected by the disease. Everyone is on the addict’s emotional rollercoaster, trying desperately to experience some semblance of peace, normalcy and security. And, as a parent, adult child or a spouse of an addict, you cannot help anyone when you’re on the rollercoaster, too. In order to help, you need to get off of the addict’s rollercoaster in order to feel stable whether your loved one is using or not.
Thankfully, there are ways to get out of the chaos and off of the emotional rollercoaster of addiction. The experienced, highly skilled and compassionate therapists and recovery coaches at Kagey Family Counseling can help you and your family develop the understanding, insight and tools needed to heal.
Family Counseling Can Help You And Your Family Find Freedom From Addiction
Family therapy can help your family heal the deep wounds that come from living in chaos and fear. In supportive and confidential sessions, all members of your family will have the safe space needed to talk—maybe for the first time—about the internal and external experience of living within an addicted family. Even just the sharing of experiences promotes healing and can bring relief. Voicing the experience validates it, starts breaking down the secrets and is the first step in taking the focus off of the addict and back onto your family as a whole.
In initial sessions, your therapist will provide you with basic education about the disease of addiction. In these sessions, you can learn about what is your responsibility and what is not. In addicted families, boundaries are almost always blurred, which is why it’s important for all members of your family to learn where the addict stops and they start. We’ll also address the roles and coping mechanisms you’ve all developed to deal with living with an addict. Left untreated, the coping skills that were learned and used to live with an addict can become significant detriments in adulthood and later in life. With a focus on setting and maintaining appropriate boundaries and developing new coping skills, your family can begin to shift into a more stable family system whether the addict is actively using or not.
At Kagey Family Counseling we understand that every family is unique and heals differently. Your addiction therapist or recovery coach will create an addiction recovery strategy that best addresses, supports and honors your family’s specific situation, history, values, background, needs and recovery goals.
If your loved one is an active addict, we can help you set firm boundaries, offer strategies and supports for self-care, and validate your feelings and conflicting emotions. You can learn to separate the addict’s responsibilities from yours and develop skills that can help you to respond appropriately to abnormal situations.
If you’re loved one is in treatment or early recovery, your therapist or coach can provide you with strategies to help support the addict/alcoholic in recovery without it defining or taking over who you are. Early recovery sometimes feels similar to what it was like when the addict was actively using—he or she is gone a lot to meetings and therapy and still very focused on him or herself. During this time, it’s not uncommon for family members to experience withdrawal symptoms from the chaos of active addiction, still feel like they’re walking on eggshells and perhaps feeling even worse. During this stage, it’s imperative for families to get help to work through big emotions and learn how to best support their loved one while also taking care of themselves.
Children of different ages within the family will display different symptoms at different times. They may be acting out, withdrawing, taking on too much responsibility, etc. Depending on the ages of your children and their behavior, your therapist can provide you with skills and strategies to best support your children during this challenging time.
Because addiction is a family disease, it’s important that your whole family gets the time, space and support needed to heal. Through the family therapy process, you can begin a conversation about individual needs and feelings and bring the focus back onto your whole family. You can take the secrets out of your family and learn how to confront hurtful, destructive behavior in healthy ways. With guidance, support and new skills, you can stop walking on eggshells and, instead, foster open communication and healthy boundaries. It is possible to develop a family system—even in the midst of addiction—in which everyone feels heard, loved, valued and understood.
You still may have questions or concerns about counseling for family members of addicts and alcoholics…
Some members of our family are open to recovery counseling. Others are not. Can family therapy still help?
It is ideal if the whole family is involved. However, even one person working toward healthy communication and boundaries can create a positive shift in the entire family. And, when members of the family once resistant to help see positive changes, they often become more open to the idea of family therapy.
We’re all so busy and have conflicting schedules. It will be difficult to get everyone in for a session at the same time.
We work with families to meet your needs on your schedule and can make special accommodations, including online counseling and weekend sessions, if needed, to get the whole family together. We can also work with individuals and small groups of your family who are available at a certain time.
It’s the addict/alcoholic that needs help. Why the whole family?
As mentioned, addiction is a family disease. It infects the whole family, and everyone needs to heal. Family members of addicts/alcoholics experience intense emotions and behavior changes that need to be addressed, processed and resolved. The addict is just part of the equation. And, his or her sobriety alone will not fix your family. Damage has occurred, and everyone needs support and a safe space to heal.
Your Family Can Heal From The Chaos Of Addiction
If your family is suffering from the impacts of addiction, we can help. We offer in-office family therapy in Houston, TX and Austin, TX and online family counseling throughout Texas. We also offer drug counseling, alcohol counseling, family therapy and codependency counseling at our Houston and Austin offices, online therapy throughout the state of Texas and recovery coaching throughout the U.S. We invite you to call us today at 832-928-0211 for a complimentary phone consultation. We’re happy to discuss your specific needs and answer any questions you have about family counseling, how to help a recovering addict, early recovery support, drug and alcohol counseling and our practice.