Addiction is a disease that effects the whole family. Addiction is defined as the most severe form of substance use disorder, associated with compulsive or uncontrolled use of one or more substances. According to the surgeon general, addiction is a chronic brain disease that has the potential for both recurrence (relapse) and recovery.
by Lara Frazier, Clean Recovery Centers
When the family is involved in trying to help an addicted loved one quit or get help, turmoil often ensues. Usually, the addicted person does not want to quit and the behavior they demonstrate when using is uncharacteristic of how they would normally behave.
As a person who was once addicted to prescription pills, I know all too well how addiction effects the family. My mother and father constantly tried to help me, but overtime many of their attempts to help negatively impacted our family.
My addiction affected my sister because she was the one who was sober and present when my family was going through the devastating time of living with an addicted daughter. The more and more my parents focused on my disease, the less time they were able to be present for my sister.
During my addiction, my sister started to build her own family and had a daughter of her own. As much as my parents tried to be available to my sister and her family, they were constantly pulled away in the attempts to help me. My parents would leave family functions to field calls from me and they would also cancel plans because they would have to fly out to another state to help me.
My parents also made excuses for my behavior. My sister saw clearly what I was doing and how much I was manipulating them; however, my parents couldn’t see the truth. I would lie to them and tell them I was not using. I would make up excuses for my odd behavior and I would manipulate them into feeling sorry for me.
Often times, dynamics like this can cause jealously among the sibling who is not using. It can also build even more resentment among siblings as they do not understand why their addicted sibling doesn’t see how much they are hurting their family.
In my personal experience, I made myself blind to the fact that I was hurting my family. I never focused on how much my addiction was tearing my family apart. If my sister brought up this fact to me, I changed the subject. I also would turn my feelings off if I saw my parents cry or be upset. I would find ways to blame them for what I was going through even if it wasn’t their fault. In my addiction, I did not take responsibility and I always wanted to put blame on someone else.
Now that I have been in recovery for several years, I can understand how traumatic it must have been for my family to suffer with my addiction. They were so busy worrying about me that they couldn’t take care of themselves. They were also unable to offer their full attention and time to other members of their family. At times, our extended family must have thought that my parents were unwilling to be honest with them. There is so much shame and stigma around addiction that my parents rarely shared the full truth of my addiction. However, over time as they sought support from others and were met with empathy and compassion, they were able to share more about my addiction. I believe that talking with other families who were going through the same thing truly helped them in immeasurable ways.
I know that my addiction also depleted much of the financial resources that my family had. Instead of saving money for their retirement, money was spent on inpatient rehabs, sober livings, and hospitals. Today, my parents are grateful to see me sober, but there are some cases in which an addicted person never finds recovery and all of those financial resources are wasted and gone. Families are often times willing to do anything to save their children. However, they must learn to set boundaries and to stop offering resources to their children that will allow them to continue using.
As my parents started setting boundaries, saying no, and learning to not enable my addiction – their health did improve. Their relationship with other members of my family also improved. It’s sad that families have to endure so much just to save their children from themselves. However, I know that even though my family went through a very traumatic situation during my addiction, they are now grateful to be on the other side. There are ways to support an addicted child in getting the help they need and there are ways to cope and methods and tools that a family can learn in order to say no.
Lara Frazier is a truth-teller, a sobriety warrior and a writer. She is a FIERCE believer in the power of owning our stories and is a strong advocate for addiction recovery. Lara shares a story of healing: in sobriety, through addiction, in life and love, and in all the other big huge moments of fear and magic that we rarely talk about, but we should. Find more of Lara’s work on her website at www.larafrazier.com or follow her on Instagram @sillylara.