According to a national study, an estimated 9.4 percent of the population had used an illicit drug within the past month. Today, the issue of addiction and overdosing is unfortunately still on the rise. The sad result is that families and friends of drug and alcohol abusers have to pay an emotional toll.
In a separate study by Gallup, the majority of respondents said their family member's addiction had a negative impact on their own mental or emotional health. Because many addicts are skilled manipulators, it makes it difficult—if not impossible—for family members and friends to cope with the situation. Their own lives frequently become an emotional turmoil laced with fear, resentment, anger, guilt and shame.
Fear is a natural response to living or interacting with an addictive spouse, child or someone you care about. There is a constant fear is that the abuser in such relationships will physically hurt themselves or others, or die from their substance abuse. This fear creates a feeling of powerlessness for friends and family. Parents lie sleepless at night waiting (and praying) for their child to come home at night.
This fear can also be paralyzing, preventing the much needed intervention the addict needs to get him or her into treatment. Sometimes, out of fear, friends and family convince themselves that interfering with the addiction will only further strain whatever’s left of their relationship with the addict.
Resenting an addict’s behavior can be a result of friends and family not fully understanding the disease of addiction. Many non-addicts view substance abuse as a character flaw that’s easily correctable by sheer willpower. Unable to explain why their loved one simply cannot do what they promise to do, they develop resentment towards the addict.
Resentment also occurs when others end up having to make excuses for the addict and find that they always have to put their own needs aside to care for the other person. It also stems from long held negative emotions that replay itself over and over within the family member’s mind.
Anger naturally follows resentment and is always a destructive emotion. Those who interact with the addict become frustrated. They discover that no matter how hard they try, the addict does not see the damaging effects of their condition, which in turn makes them angry. Family members lash out at each other on the “best way” to handle the situation, causing heated arguments and discourse. There is a feeling of loss of control that expresses itself as anger.
Guilt takes place when a friend or family member believes that they are somehow responsible for the substance abuse. They are so tormented with guilt that they will do just about anything to make things right. These people believe that in the past they did (or did not) do something that directly caused the addictive behavior. The guilt manifests itself in a pattern of enabling behavior. This takes a variety of forms, such as lending money, providing housing or working to assure the addict’s comfort. They may find they focus exclusively on the addict and ignore their spouse, children and even their job in a vain attempt to help “fix” the situation. As a result, the entire family suffers.
Shame is a powerful emotion that harms the entire family and prevents healing. In today’s world, there is still a stigma attached to addiction. Family members compensate for their shame and feelings of failure by making excuses or trying to keep the addiction a secret. Being ashamed of a loved one’s addiction sees many over compensation with coddling and caring.
Rarely are the negative effects of addiction limited to just the addict. Every single person in an addict’s family and circle of friends is affected in some way by the individual’s substance abuse. Families dealing with addiction experience considerable stress. They never know what behavior to expect from the unpredictable addict. It is simply exhausting.
The most successful treatment programs for alcohol and drug abuse includes family, close friends and a stable support system. Since addiction can destroy the entire family, addiction recovery needs to heal all involved and not just the addict.