Addiction is a disease that changes the brain’s structures and functions, which in turn affects your thought and behavior patterns. But it changes more than your brain—far more. Recovering from an addiction is as much about repairing the damage addiction has done in your life as it is about ending substance abuse. From legal and financial troubles to physical and mental health problems, addiction takes a serious toll on nearly every aspect of your life. For most people, the majority of the damage done is to relationships, and that’s why improving them is a major focus of a quality treatment program.
Support from friends and family members is a crucial factor for successful recovery. However, your relationships are probably somewhat complicated in one way or another, and this can make things awkward or distressing in the early months of sobriety.
This guide will help you understand how a person’s addiction may affect friends and families. It will offer tips on navigating the complex relationships with your significant other, your adult children, your parents and your friends—including longtime co-workers—as you enter a new chapter in your life.
The Effects of Addiction on Family Members
Addiction doesn’t just affect the person who has one. Everyone in the addicted individual’s life is indelibly touched by the substance abuse, whether they’ve been lied to, manipulated, inconvenienced, embarrassed or abused.
Family members are generally the group most affected by addiction. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence notes that addiction puts the family under an enormous amount of stress as normal routines are interrupted by upsetting experiences. This leads to unhealthy coping behaviors and destructive thought patterns as family members try to maintain some semblance of normalcy, even as they feel their world spiraling out of control.
Unfortunately, these unhealthy behaviors don’t disappear once the addicted family member enters treatment. Just as it takes time to develop destructive thought and behavior patterns, it takes time to re-learn healthy ways of thinking and behaving.
The spouse or significant other of the addicted individual has likely been repeatedly lied to and manipulated. The everyday stresses and added financial and household responsibilities that come with living with an addicted partner take their toll on physical and mental health. Financial or legal problems may cause even more stress.
Spouses may engage in codependent or enabling behaviors, such as making excuses or removing consequences to keep the peace. They may take out frustration on the pets or the kids, and they’ll likely develop unhealthy coping mechanisms like binge eating, excessive Internet use or compulsive shopping.
Parents of an adult child with an addiction have often given money to their child for rent or bills, even though they know the money may not go toward those things. They may enable the addiction by bailing their child out of jail, and they may be emotionally blackmailed with threats of suicide or starving, homeless grandchildren.
Somewhere between fear and anger lies…
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