Often addiction is talked about as a family disease; it affects not only the addicted individual, but also the people who have relationships with the addict. It becomes important for the family to recognize their role in the addiction so that they can make positive changes, offer guidance and support, and begin to heal as a family unit. Frequently healing is done through family therapy, al anon participation, and most of all, education about addiction.
Based on the family dynamic there are a variety of different roles that family members assume in addictive households. In Claudia Black’s book It Will Never Happen to Me: Adult Children of Alcoholic Parents she defines in great detail the role’s that different family members take on. Although her book refers specifically to a family dynamic where the parent is the addict the roles are the same in any family struggling with addiction. There generally is the placater, the responsible one, and the one who acts out. The placater is the peacemaker who wants to keep everyone happy at the cost of his or her own happiness. The responsible one is the person who gets everything done. They may be very organized, controlling, and even productive, however, they can become unaware of their own feelings and rigid. By taking care of everyone else, they don’t learn how to care for their own emotional well-being. The acting out role is one where the person desires attention and usually gets it negatively. This person noticeably struggles as a result of the addiction. All these roles share the suffering and denial associated with having a loved one who is an addict.
When the family identifies the roles in their own household, and is honest about the nature of addiction the healing begins. Family therapy is a great tool; everyone can express himself or herself honestly and openly in a safe environment. In families that are often characterized by denial this honesty is a positive step towards recovery. The family members need to be accountable and admit how their denial may have enabled the addiction. A great way for families to participate in treatment, shed the shame associated with addiction, and get support, is to attend al anon meetings. Al anon is a fellowship of men and women who want support in dealing with their relationship with an addict. Much like Alcoholics Anonymous, al anon has steps and sponsors and plenty of opportunities for families to understand that they are not alone in dealing with addiction.
Education is the final piece to the role of family in treatment. It is important to know the statistics, and understand that addiction is a disease with no cure. Family members sometimes cannot grasp the concept that after treatment, sober living, and AA that the loved one will not be cured. Instead, they are struggling with a progressive illness that requires constant work and maintenance to achieve long-term sobriety. The work for an addict, and for an addict’s family, is never done.