~By Kathy Brock Frasier, Regional Director, The Addict’s Mom
Question: Why is addiction called “a family disease”?
Addiction is called a “family disease” yet many will dispute this by responding “I do not have the problem. He/she has the problem because he /she is the one taking drugs.” However, addiction wraps its tentacles tightly around those closest to the addict, most typically family and friends. Good times, family events, love, happiness and joy are replaced by an obsession to stop the destructive behavior of the addict. Family resentment is fueled by the “enabler” who repeatedly attempts to fix the problem, using consequences that are otherwise effective with non-addicted children.
Following many attempts, strategies and years spent to stop the addict from taking drugs, the failed cycle remains in place and family dynamics change. Living with an addict causes severe trauma to everyone within the home. The stress brought about by addiction often manifests itself through physical ailments, including high blood pressure, headaches, frequent colds, chest pains, to name a few. Because we are so busy worrying about others, we fail to take care of ourselves. Brothers, sisters and spouses often feel excluded and unimportant, ultimatums are demanded to choose between the child and spouse, and strife in the household has become the norm. The family begins to disintegrate and resentment festers. The entire family feels anger, sadness, depression, fear, loneliness, jealousy, shame, inadequacy and failure. Purses and wallets become bedtime companions, deadlocks are placed on bedroom doors, valuables are hidden away in locked safes and the home becomes a fortress. Finances are depleted, friendships are lost, relationships are damaged, our health is poor and the home is a war zone. It feels helpless.
There is a word for behavior that enables an addict and it is called co-dependence. Some consider co-dependence a disease itself. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines co-dependence as “a psychological condition or relationship in which a person is controlled or manipulated by another who is affected with a pathological condition (as in an addiction to alcohol or heroin); broadly: dependence on the needs of or control by another.”
Families are manipulated by addicts who will do or say anything to minimize their disease and to continue drug usage. As parents we want to believe the best of our addicted children as we always hold out hope that their words are true and there will be an end to the madness. What we fail to understand is the strength of the disease of addiction. When we choose to believe them and give in to their requests, only to be let down once again, we take it personally. We ask ourselves “how could our child do this to us?” Education surrounding the true brain disease of addiction is paramount to our own recovery of this disease, as well as theirs.
Once we recognize our futile attempts to stop a disease for which there has yet to be found a cure, we can begin to utilize different strategies in dealing with our addicted children. We can allow our children to feel the consequences and results of their behavior. In essence, we can “raise their bottom.” We can begin to take care of ourselves by reaching out to mothers who have had similar experiences. As we build friendships and feel supported and loved, it becomes easier to make difficult decisions and we learn new ways to cope with the reality of addiction.
While it’s commonly agreed that providing our addicted children with cash is not a good idea as it likely contributes to buying more drugs—and hiring expensive attorneys might provide a short reprieve, (but does not guarantee recovery) we must remember that each circumstance and every child is unique.
There is no right or wrong way to respond to a situation. We must live with our own decisions regarding enabling/co-dependence and each decision must be carefully weighed. One indisputable fact remains . . . a healthy and educated family is better equipped to face the trials of an addicted child.