The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that 23.5 million individuals 12 or older required treatment for substance abuse in 2011. Addiction is a disease that has wide-ranging consequences. Individuals who are close to the addict, such as spouses, partners and family members, must deal with the chaotic behavior on a daily basis, which leads to a variety of coping mechanisms that can increase the dysfunction in their lives. In addition, research indicates that 24 percent of many families suffer profound emotional damage from dealing with an addicted family member. Counseling that includes the addict and loved ones can help to restore normal communications and interactions.
The center of the family dysfunction lies in the unpredictable behavior of the addict. The addict may subsume every facet of the family relationship in order to continue using the drug, whether it is alcohol or drugs. Addictive behavior within a family unit often goes through several stages.
- In the early stages, the substance abuse may not seem like a problem. The individual may seem particularly drawn to the substance and occasions of its use. There may be binging and some loss of control. Family members are likely to dismiss the behavior, although some disapproval may be expressed.
- The addiction then progresses to the alienation stage. The individual begins to use the substance more frequently, pushing away anyone who may get in the way of his or her substance abuse. The person chooses to spend more time in the company of other users. He or she begins avoiding phone calls from family and missing family gatherings.
- Addicts will then progress to a phase of deteriorating health, in which grooming habits and general health suffer. They begin to show signs of deterioration of hair, teeth, clothing and demeanor. Their behavior becomes erratic, with irritability, apathy, depression or aggressive responses. Lying, stealing, manipulation and evasion are common at this stage and can cause extreme alienation with loved ones.
- In the next stage, consequences of the substance use begin to show. The person may lose ground or quit school. Problems with the law may begin. The person may be fired. Accidents and injuries may occur. Financial problems pile up. The individual may be arrested or jailed. The individual engages in constant excusing of behavior or blames others for the troubles.
Coping Behavior and Family Dysfunction
The change in normal behavior in the addict causes a ripple effect throughout the family unit. Loved ones must deal with the constant evasive behavior, lying, sudden disappearance of money, increasing health costs, legal problems, social embarrassment, worry over the addict and the pervasive fear of what will happen next. As a result, the family can no longer function in a normal fashion, and a state of constant disruption and high stress rules.
Healing Old Wounds
An estimated 2.9 million people received treatment for addiction in 2011. Drug treatment programs often include family in the treatment of the individual to help undo some of the damage that addiction can bring. Counseling groups give family members a safe place to air their grievances and come to an understanding of the addicts former behavior, so that the family can begin to re-learn healthy ways to interact. The family can be instrumental in an addicts recovery, but the damage done by addiction must first be repaired before this state of mutual understanding can begin.