Addiction has been called a family disease. That stretches the meaning of disease, but the point is obvious. Addiction affects the family. Below is an excerpt from NCADD:
Addiction is a family disease that stresses the family to the breaking point, impacts the stability of the home, the family’s unity, mental health, physical health, finances, and overall family dynamics.
Living with addiction can put family members under unusual stress. Normal routines are constantly being interrupted by unexpected or even frightening kinds of experiences that are part of living with alcohol and drug use. What is being said often doesn’t match up with what family members sense, feel beneath the surface or see right in front of their eyes. The alcohol or drug user as well as family members may bend, manipulate and deny reality in their attempt to maintain a family order that they experience as gradually slipping away. The entire system becomes absorbed by a problem that is slowly spinning out of control. Little things become big and big things get minimized as pain is denied and slips out sideways.
When I worked in an inpatient addiction treatment facility in the 80s part of my job was facilitating family groups. Most family members of an addict learn the hard way that they can’t control the problem. It was in the 80s when the term “tough love” became popular.
Tough love is when a family member, friend or significant other of an addict realizes the limitations involved in trying to help someone who has a problem with alcohol or some other drug. The bottom line is line is that bottom lines are often necessary. When a mother refuses to bail out her 20 year old son for the fifth time, due to one more alcohol related arrest, it can be the greatest act of love possible. If an addict is allowed to face the consequences of his/her actions, then there’s a chance of accepting reality. When an addict is always protected from the consequences of addiction, the person much less motivated to seek help.
It takes courage and supreme love to allow a loved one to suffer consequences, but it could hurt the loved one even more to “protect” them. Interventions are sometimes the only way to break through an addict’s defense system. There are many forms of intervention. Also, family members of an addict can seek help even if the addict refuses to take action. Many times when the family recovers from addiction, the addict will follow. When the defensive games addicts play no longer work, they’re forced to look at their situation in a different way — but, when a family member seeks help, it doesn’t automatically mean the addict will seek recovery. The family member should seek help regardless whether the addict recovers or not — for their own mental health and emotional well being.