When a loved one has an addiction, it affects everyone around them. The changes that happen throughout the whole family are severe and afflict all those close to the addict. When addiction takes hold of someone, unhealthy behaviour patterns begin to develop in families which can not only hinder recovery prospects, but can also unintentionally worsen the addiction. The strain on families and friends of an addict can cause those involved to develop depression, anxiety, financial instability and complete breakdowns of relationships. Addiction has the power to turn peaceful homes into utter chaos, with conflict becoming the norm as family members fight over what the addict has done how to ‘fix them’.

These fixing behaviours can lead to a cycle of hopelessness and resentment towards the addict. Some ways loved ones may try to ‘fix’ an addict include forcing them into treatment when they are not ready, policing an addict’s behaviour in order to make sure they stay sober, allowing their boundaries to be broken down by the addict in the hope that they can keep them safe. When these methods don’t work, the loved one can become resentful that they haven’t changed or angry that the addict doesn’t seem to appreciate their efforts.

Drug and alcohol addiction are two of the most divisive problems that can occur in a family system. One of the most detrimental aspects of addiction is the lying that goes with it. Addicts usually lead double lives, lying constantly about their whereabouts, who they are with, what they are doing, why they didn’t show up, where their money was spent and essentially anything else they need to, to cover up their addiction. Despite this, those close to the addict will usually know about the addiction before they have disclosed the problem. Unfortunately, the addict may not realise the damage they are causing to their relationships until it is too late. After relationships break down and loved ones start to leave, they will find themselves lonely and isolated which can perpetuate or deepen the addiction.

Since addiction is a family disease, it is unreasonable to assume that if the addict gets clean, all the problems and negative communication patterns will be rectified. Everyone in the family needs to make changes if there is any hope at rebuilding what has been damaged. Some steps loved ones can take to help mend the rifts are practicing self-care, utilising support groups, and engaging with professional help such as counselling. Self-care is very important when dealing with the stressful situations that arise from having an addicted family member, you can’t look after someone else if you’re not looking after yourself. Self-care involves participating in activities you enjoy such as going to the movies, bowling, reading a book, painting etc, spending time with people you like, exercise, making sure you get a good night’s sleep, eating nutritious food, meditation or getting a massage. There are lots of support groups available for you to attend judgement free. Groups such as Al-anon (friends and family members of alcoholics) and Nar-anon (friends and family members of drug addicts) can provide you with tools and reliable support from others in similar situations to help get you through difficult times.

Remember that taking on too much responsibility for someone else’s actions can put you in a very difficult situation. Ultimately it is their choice if they want to get sober and the decisions they make are their responsibility. You can always offer assistance when appropriate, but also make sure you are looking after yourself first. There is light at the end of the tunnel and treatment centres are available to help your loved one get clean and stay clean and rebuild the damaged relationships into new, stable foundations.