How To Deal With Addiction In The Family

Although battling addiction is often considered a personal experience, it can have devastating effects on the entire family. When spouses, partners, parents, and children witness a family member who is struggling with a substance use disorder, they can experience significant emotional stress. This can lead to coping mechanisms that may seem like the only way to deal with family addiction, but actually cause more harm than good to both the addict and the family as a whole.

Family and Addiction

When one family member is struggling with drug addiction, it’s often true that other family members aren’t equipped with the proper knowledge to deal with this in healthy ways. Conflict may become a normal occurrence in a previously peaceful home, trust erodes, marriages often end, and family members can become guarded as their loved one tries to hide their addiction in secrecy. That’s why it’s important for all family members to first recognize the unhealthy behaviors that they may be apt to adopt in an attempt to cope with addiction in the family.

Common Unhealthy Ways Family Members Cope with Addiction

Blaming the Addict vs Addressing the Disease

When family members don’t understand that addiction is a chronic disease that often involves relapse, it’s common for them to believe that their loved one simply doesn’t want to get sober. This can lead to blaming the addict for being unmotivated or too selfish to abstain from substance use.

On the other hand, when family members are willing to seek resources that educate them about the effects of addiction on the brain, it can make it much easier to address the issue as a medical condition that often needs the attention of addiction professionals.

Isolation vs Seeking Support

It’s common for family members to feel ashamed of the addict and his or her actions, which can lead to isolating themselves from others and their community. This attempt to hide what’s going on often leads to complete denial that there is a serious issue.

Conversely, family members can reach out to others who have experience with coping with addiction in the family. This can involve joining a local support group for family members and friends of addicts, in order to see that they aren’t alone in dealing with their situation.

Rescuing vs Effective Treatment

Because it’s extremely difficult to witness a child, parent, spouse or sibling suffer the consequences of addiction, family members often try to rescue the addict from these repercussions. However, this approach only further enables the addict’s destructive behaviors as family members bail them out of jail, loan them money, or even lie to keep their loved one from losing a job. Although this type of enabling may seem like a loving and helpful approach, it only feeds the cycle of addiction.

Instead, family members can find ways to seek help for their loved one who is struggling with addiction from addiction professionals who can educate them on how to find effective treatment options and other resources that actually address the issue rather than covering it up, and thus prolonging it.

Inappropriate vs Helpful Roles

There are several codependent family roles that can develop among family members coping with addiction that may include:

  • The Hero: This family member will strive to overachieve and overshadow the downfalls of their addicted loved one. They will often appear confident and happy but actually feel extremely isolated and withdrawn on the inside.
  • The Caretaker: This person will strive to keep the family connected and functioning and often takes over the addict’s responsibilities as they inadvertently encourage these codependent behaviors in other family members in the process.
  • The Mascot: This family member strives to draw attention away from the issue by making jokes to mask the problem or make the situation appear less serious or damaging than it is.
  • The Scapegoat: This person will actually try to draw attention to themselves instead of the addict, which can lead to getting into trouble at work or school. In some cases, this family member may even begin using drugs or alcohol themselves.

The Lost Child: This family member can become so overcome with concern for the addict that they withdraw emotionally to avoid the conflict and drama that has overtaken other family members.These roles can be extremely damaging to the family members taking them on, as well as the family as a whole. They also often go unnoticed, as the dynamics of the family mold around them. In this case, counseling or other therapeutic approaches are often necessary to reverse these roles and help family members adopt healthier ones that will help heal the family overall.


Because facing addiction in the family can be overwhelming while trying to maintain stability in the home, some family members will begin to self-medicate in order to cope and keep the household running. This puts them at risk of developing a dependence on harmful substances themselves.

Unrealistic Expectations About Recovery

If an addicted family member seeks the support of a recovery group or seeks inpatient treatment for their disease and maintains abstinence for a period of time, it’s easy for family members to believe that they have been cured and the problem is solved. However, maintaining sobriety takes work and addicts often relapse. If other family members have unrealistic expectations about recovery, a setback by the addict can be seen as a devastating situation, eliciting blame in other family members that can damage relationships.

It’s important for all family members to understand that there is no cure for addiction and when or if a relapse occurs, there are ways to support the addict to get back on track.

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How to Help Yourself, Other Family Members and the Addict

Don’t Blame Yourself

Blaming yourself for your loved one’s addiction will only spiral you into depression or leave you ridden with anxiety. This type of thinking will help no one in the family, especially you. It also doesn’t offer a workable solution to effectively address the problem.

Don’t Enable

This is one of the most important behaviors to be aware of if there is an addiction in your family. As difficult as it might be, it’s essential that you help your loved one to move toward a life of recovery. Enabling can take many forms, but generally includes behaviors that ultimately help the addict to continue their destructive behaviors. If this continues you may need to consider removing the addict from your home for the good of yourself and the addict.

More often than not, family members don’t enable for the purpose of continuing their loved one’s addiction, but rather make choices they feel are out of love for them. Like blaming yourself, enabling helps no one in the family.

Practice Both Self-Care and Family Care

In order to help anyone, you have to take care of yourself first. Dealing with addiction in the family is exhausting and can drain family resources. This means it’s important to do things that have nothing to do with coping with addiction in the family. When the family member suffering from addiction is outside the home, the rest of the family should do things that maintain family bonds. When the addicted family member is inside the home, take time as a family without talking about the addiction.

Remember that Addiction is a Disease

It’s essential that you and other family members continue to remind yourselves that addiction is a disease, rather than a moral failing. Thinking that your loved one who’s addicted has flawed moral fiber will only lead to more frustration. Keeping in mind that addiction is a disease, on the other hand, will keep your mindset solution-based to get the professional help the addict needs.

When a family member is in active addiction, the whole family suffers. There is no doubt that addiction is a family disease, so it’s important to treat it as such to help all family members cope in healthy ways with the true crisis that has been placed on them.

Concerned about how addiction is affecting your family? There’s no need to go through this alone. There are options for your loved one, as well as your family as a whole. From inpatient treatment to local support groups, your family deserves the support they need.

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Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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