Substance use disorder is usually viewed mainly as a personal problem. Constantly repeated use will change how the brain functions, altering the user’s reasoning and behavior and affecting all aspects of life including emotional, mental and physical health.
Unfortunately, alcohol and drug addiction can impact the lives of families and people close to the user as well. Just by watching the struggle, children and spouses can feel emotionally disturbed. Other issues, such as medical, legal, and financial are just parts of the circle of never-ending problems. AddictionResource.com offers free drug rehabilitation center counseling for families since addiction has such a complex nature. Counselors work with the entire family to help them find healthy ways to cope.
The short-term, as well as long-term effects of drug and alcohol addiction on family members, can vary, but generally, they usually appear in the sphere of communication first. Frequent conflicts or lack of communication, and loss of trust are clear signs of disfunction and the beginning of family unit deterioration. The role or multiple roles that family members usually play to preserve order, stability, and balance will shift and the whole family structure will be seriously damaged and eventually destroyed.
According to Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse, a nationally known consultant, educator, book writer and expert in the codependency fields, there are six different roles in addiction that can be used to explain or highlight the negative effect of addiction on each family member.
The first role was named The Addict. People with substance use disorder are restless and live in a constant state of confusion. They are determined to secure their new way of living, so there will be no hesitation in manipulating, lying, and deceiving others, to fulfill the need. Further, they will act as if the addiction doesn’t exist and won’t call or visit free rehab centers for help. As a result of this behavior, addicts often isolate themselves from other family members or create conflicts and blame them for the problem as they refuse to admit who is the real source.
The enabler is usually the spouse or a child who is in partial or complete denial of the situations. The main goal of this role is to create an atmosphere that everything is in order and as usual. This person believes that alcoholism or drug use is just a phase, not a serious matter and is willing to make countless excuses for the addict. They are also convinced that this is the only way to protect and save the family.
The third role, Hero, is often played by the oldest child. This person is a typical overachiever with a tendency to work hard to reach perfection in everything. A family hero will try to achieve as much as possible and bring some sense, hope, and tranquility to the disturbed family life. If needed, they will assume the parental role as well, which is often seen in cases where a single parent or both parents have an addiction problem. Unfortunately, the tendency to do things perfectly will create a lot of pressure on the hero and probably result in mental and physical illnesses in later years.
The Scapegoat is the person who’s blamed for all family problems, usually the second oldest child, or the most misbehaved member. This person will provide an excuse for the family to focus and to blame someone else for the situations, to protect the addict from resentment. For example, if the parent refuses to go to free alcohol treatment or has withdrawal symptoms, the family could accuse this child of forcing them to deal with problems in school, instead of focusing on more important issues. Individuals who grow up in this stressful atmosphere often turn to violence.
The youngest child sometimes takes the role of the Mascot. By trying to supply humor this young person is fighting to gain some attention and approval from adults and to find some relief from emotional pain and fear. Unfortunately, mascots often become addicts too.
The middle or youngest child can also take the role of the Lost Child. This person is almost invisible to the family as well as to the world, extremely shy, hesitant to make decisions, like solitude, and has problems with forming friendships or relationships, in general.
Growing up witnessing the struggle of a parent with a substance use disorder has a deep impact on the child. They can develop a wide range of mental and emotional disorders and problems with learning and mental development. Children of addicts are often neglected, physically and sexually abused, and exposed to aggression and violence. The early or constant influence of these and other addiction effects can cause a child to feel unsafe, guilty, disturbed, and unstable. To prevent these outcomes, it’s crucial to involve them in family therapy, provided in free drug rehab or similar facilities, residential treatment programs or therapeutic boarding schools.
People who have families with addicts are not only legally bound (in case of marriage) but also probably emotionally deeply involved and inspired to help them or seek help. Although it’s difficult to cope with a person with substance use disorder, divorce, breakup or separation doesn’t have to be the only way to deal with it. If addicts are willing to fight for their families then the most important part for their partners, spouses, and children is to turn to professionals and seek help. Addiction is treatable, but it will not go away by itself or easily.
If you have an addict in your family, it’s ok to feel confused, scared and helpless. But, there is no need to waste your time and energy trying to find the solution by yourself. You can start by calling free help for alcoholics or free drug addiction helplines in your community or state. You’ll be able to find out the necessary information or even to talk to counselors for families, who will advise you how to proceed.
The rehabilitation treatments will be more effective if the family, close and extended, as well as friends and co-workers, are involved in the process. If you have a family member who is addicted to drugs or alcohol consider Al anon in AZ meetings for you and your family. As the family of an addict, you also need support and info on how to deal with an addict.