We often think of addiction as a personal or individual experience because of the damage it does to the addicted person. However, the entire family is almost always impacted by another members addiction. It is estimated that 1 in 5 children grow up in a home where a parent abuses drugs or alcohol.
Children are emotionally and psychologically impacted by the unpredictable and often chaotic behavior from addiction which can cause long lasting trauma and psychological problems. These children are more likely to develop addictions themselves as well as suffer from academic and social problems. They are more likely to experience physical or sexual abuse.
In addition, the emotional and physical needs of other family members is often set aside since the family system tends to be centered around the addicted individual. When they are not using the substance, the family feels good; when they are using, the family feels sad, angry, or frightened.
We recently featured Dr. Dennis Daley on the Recovery and Company podcast for a series on the family. Dr. Daley has spent a good part of his forty plus year career advocating for families impacted by addiction. He says these families are more likely to experience divorce or separation along with greater rates of violence, poverty, and children being taken by child welfare.
According to Daley, one thing often overlooked is that the extended family system is generally fractured as well due to cousins, uncles or grandparents not wanting to be exposed to the chaos that tends to erupt in families impacted by addiction.
Daley says what has been missing in programs is the focus on how the families and children have been affected and what is being done for them:
“We have all kinds of treatments for addictions but seldom are families involved. You don’t have to be a social worker or family therapist to help a family. You just need to understand how they are affected since they themselves will often need mental health, medical or addiction services…very few programs bring in children and look at how they are affected by parental addiction and what we can do for them and to asses them.”
This is why The Life Change Center started our Strengthening Families Program that focuses on the resiliency of the child. Families meet for dinner and education weekly. The participants receive education and support. Kids learn skills and the parents learn how to facilitate their child’s learning at home.
When an addicted family member gets well and engages in recovery, it has a positive effect on the entire family even if they are not in treatment. They do better, spend more time together, and violence goes down significantly. The best thing to do if your family is impacted by addiction in to get help from other family members, support groups, and mutual aid programs. As we try and help loved ones struggling with addiction it is easy to lose ourselves in the process.
“Take care of yourself” says Daley, “and deal with the problem directly as opposed to hoping it goes away.” The good news is that people overcome addictions every day.
“There is too much focus on the negativity of addiction and not the positivity of recovery” says Daley, “We need to sell hope.”