Many books have been written on how addiction affects family. Alcoholics Anonymous addressed the family problem in 1935 with a chapter called the Family Afterwards in AA’s main book which they refer to as The Big Book. In the 80s there was a co-dependency movement which addressed the significant others who develop destructive coping mechanisms when dealing with a loved one who’s an alcoholic. This expanded to cover relationships torn apart by addiction to other drugs. The specific addiction wasn’t important.
Before co-dependency became the popular term, the term used most often was enabler. The idea behind this originated from the behaviors of spouses of alcoholics. Often, the spouse of an alcoholic would cover for the destructive behavior of the alcoholic partner to, mostly, protect the reputation of the family. The dysfunctional relationship was usually presented as a wife covering for an alcoholic husband, but in reality the situation was often reversed and the husband was covering for an alcoholic wife, or both the wife and husband were covering for a son or daughter. Much of the enabling behavior was driven by shame and concern with what others would think.
As time grew on and more was learned about the psychology of enabling/co-dependency, more complex theories were developed to explain the behaviors of significant others who are enmeshed in dysfunctional relationships of all sorts. In the field of addiction treatment, it’s still a problem when a family member, employer or good friend enables the addicted person to continue the destructive pattern of addiction. Tough love is still a healthy approach to the situation. The trick is to stay mentally, physically and emotional healthy while trying to deal with someone who’s addicted to alcohol or some other drug. Then there’s the sad part of addiction when a person has to end a relationship because it has become too toxic and the only way to stay sane is to separate from the addicted person.
We recommend that family members of the addicted person receive counseling or join a mutual aid group like Al-anon or Nar-anon. The family can get sick too when they live in a dysfunctional environment for a long period of time, and if the addicted person gets help and starts to recover it’s good if family members understand the process and deal with their own built up emotions.