5 Unhealthy Ways Families Cope With Addiction


addiction-impact-familyWhen one family member is struggling with a substance use disorder, other family members assume certain attitudes and behaviors to cope with the impact of their loved one’s substance abuse. These coping mechanisms seem like the best way to handle the addiction, but they’re usually extremely unhealthy and can cause a lot of harm if uncorrected.

Addiction shatters family dynamics, stability, behavioral roles, finances, and physical and emotional well-being, which is why it’s so crucial for family members to engage in their loved one’s treatment. The family serves as a built-in support system, and it’s an invaluable asset in long-term recovery.

There are a few common unhealthy ways families cope with substance use:

1. They assume unhealthy roles.

Family members may take on codependent roles to a certain extent to cope with their loved one’s addiction. While these roles exist primarily in children, they can also be used to describe adults who assume these characteristics, adding to the dysfunction:

  • The Hero is an overachiever who tries to make the family look good. They seem perfectly poised and put together on the outside, but on the inside, they feel isolated and are incapable of expressing their feelings.
  • The Mascot uses humor to take attention away from the addict. Although it usually masks the problem, the mascot often feels embarrassed and angry with their loved one’s behavior.
  • The Scapegoat also draws attention away from the addict but in a more negative, destructive way. They may get into trouble with school, work or the law, and they may engage in high-risk behaviors like drug or alcohol use.
  • The Lost Child withdraws entirely from the situation. They’re very concerned about the addict and how their behavior is affecting them and other family members, but they isolate themselves to avoid the drama.
  • The Caretaker wants everyone to be happy and feels personally responsible for making sure the family functions. They often enable the addict by assuming their responsibilities.

Family therapy can help family members understand unhealthy family roles and codependency, and replace negative behaviors with positive ones.

2. They blame their loved one.

Family members may accuse their loved one of not having the motivation, willpower or desire to get sober, but that’s a harmful belief, and the situation is much more complicated than that. Addiction is a chronic disease, just like any disease where relapse is a possibility, like cancer or autoimmune disorders.

Your loved one made the decision to drink or use. They did not, however, make the decision to become addicted. Education helps family members understand addiction as a disease, including how it affects the brain and leads to negative, self-destructive behaviors. When family members have an accurate understanding of how addiction works, they’re more compassionate toward their loved one.

3. They become isolated.

If someone is ashamed of their loved one’s substance abuse, they may isolate themselves and withdraw from the people they care about. Isolation can also be viewed as a form of denial, as they might not want other people to know what’s going on.

In recovery, it’s important for everyone to get support. Family members with loved ones in treatment can engage in family support groups where they can meet other people who are experiencing the same thing and understand the challenges they face on a daily basis.

4. They enable their loved one.

It can be extremely upsetting to watch a loved one suffer from the consequences of their substance use. A family member might try to protect their loved one from the effects by supporting them financially, cleaning up their messes, not holding them accountable and engaging in codependent behaviors.

But this doesn’t do any good. This is enabling. Individual and family therapy can help family members understand and identify enabling behaviors and learn how to offer their loved one support and guidance in healthy, productive ways.

5. They use drugs or alcohol.

Addiction is all-consuming, and it can be understandably overwhelming for families who want to function as a “normal” family. Many family members of addicts turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate.

Substance use disorder can affect anyone. Spearhead Lodge specializes in treating young adult men with drug or alcohol addiction, and as a part of the BRC Recovery Family of Programs, we can connect you with the resources you or someone you love needs to recover, regardless of age or gender. For more information about how our services can help you or someone you care about, contact a Spearhead Recovery Specialist at 1-866-905-4550.