Addiction not only affects the addict and their life, but the presence of addiction also affects the lives of the addict's family. "For every person who is addicted to drugs or alcohol, it is believed that there are at least four to six other people, especially parents, partners, and children who are equally affected" (Capuzzi & Staffer). As the addict continues to use a change occurs within the family's dynamics and problems arise. As dysfunction occurs with the family system, its members begin to live and abide by different limitations that are set in place in order to mask the truth about what is actually occurring. Each family member adheres to a different role and begins to unconsciously enable the addict. The family begins to feel powerless to the addict while the addict feels defeated by the drug. As the addict fights to find sobriety, it becomes necessary for his or her family members to seek therapy as well.
As the family undergoes a variety of transitions due to the addict's substance abuse the dynamics of the family system becomes influenced by changes that occur both outside and within the family. These changes, described by the authors of Substance Abuse: Information for School Counselors, Social Workers, Therapists, and Counselors use the term family homeostasis to explain " The natural tendency of families to behave in such a manner as to maintain a sense of balance, structure, and stability in the face of change" (192). If family members disregard this change chaos could take place, so the members therefore maintain balance by compulsively developing instincts of survival, hide their true feelings, as well as distant themselves and others from feeling emotions. The family distorts reality to conserve homeostasis. They become accustomed to roles, rules, and boundaries that create a new balance that fits.
"Addictions often create interpersonal problems for all family members" (Laurieman). Some of the common problems that escalate are jealousy, in which the person feels apprehensive towards others because they do not have to deal with the disease of addiction. Another problem that comes about is conflict between partners and children. The partners tend to argue constantly and ignore one another. As hostility increases, the children become afraid of their parents or completely disregard authority. Another conflict that is disputed in addicted family systems is about money. The cost of a habit is not cheap and continuing to use causes the addict to lack responsibly, such as keeping a job. The family will sooner or later struggle with financial issues. There are many hardships that are caused from emotional trauma and violence, because of the negative and manipulating words and actions the addict says or does. The addict consumes the family and they become overwhelmed, which leads to the problem of separation. Often the family members take some of the learned roles, rules, and boundaries with them as they enter their new lives.
As the family dynamics drastically change, so does the rules and boundaries that govern the family. "Typically rules in alcoholic families involve the best way to deal with the addict and how to keep the addiction secret in order to protect and preserve the family" (Capuzzi & Staffer). The three imperatives that govern family systems with addiction are don't talk; don't trust; and don't feel. "The rules form the basis family interactions and for the alliances between individual family members and society at large" (Fisher & Harrison).
There are three other major rules described in families with addiction. The first rule is that everything revolves around the addict. There is no stability within the addict's life and this is seen in the families. For every action the addict makes the family rule entitles them to react with the addict being the center of attention and the family's priority. Obviously this mean the family is deprived of their needs and the mood is constantly fluctuating based on the addict's substance abuse.
The second rule initiated by the family, makes the addict not responsible for his or her behavior and rather than the use of substance being the reason for the family's problems, the reasoning is diverted into excused for why the addict is using; denying the addicted family member is using due to the disease of addiction.
The last rule that governs the family is that the status quo must be maintained at all times and the family members are careful not to disrupt the routine. No one outside the family can know what is going on and those with in the family brainwash themselves into believing that there really is nothing anything wrong.
The boundaries of addicted family systems delineate the ways in which the family relates to one another. The boundaries reflect the rules of the family. These boundaries and rules I discuss based on my research show that their purpose is to show the family members how close they can get to one another, how the family connects with society, and how conflict is tolerated. The boundaries and rules affect families differently, based on the family structure and roles the family members take on.
There are four roles that the family's members can occupy. The first role is the family "Hero". This role consists of the person over achieving, being self-reliant, and very responsible. The "Hero" often takes care of everyone in the family. The second role occupied is the "Scapegoat". This family member is said to be the cause of all the familiy's problems because they act out to draw attention away from the families actual issues. Opposite the "Scapegoat", is the role of the "Lost Child". This family member follows directions and adapts easily to the changing family dynamics. They bring very little attention to themselves. The last role obtained, is that of the "Mascot". The "Mascot" is the family's source of entertainment. They are liked by the other family members because they humor the bad situations that occur in the family.
In addicted family systems, these roles occupied allow the addict to use without consequence because they go by unnoticed. In healthy families the roles are flexible but are rigid in addicted family systems. As the addict begins to use more frequently the roles become more intense. The roles are primary perused in order to mask the truths about the addiction within the family. The boundaries and rules cause the family members to seek roles in order to maintain the family structure. The structure of a family with addiction can be viewed as an organism, surrounded by a semipermeable boundary.
The structure of addicted families differs, based on the physical aspects of who makes up the family. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Substance Abuse Treatment and Family Therapy guide says if " You live alone or with a partner, you live with a spouse or partner and young children, you have a step family , or you are younger and live with your family" then the dynamics will vary. IF you are a family member that lives with a partner then both you and your partner need to seek treatment. With one of you having addiction, co-dependence will occur. As parents or partners of children, your issue will affect the children as well as the disease of addiction which is hereditary. "Just because you are prone to addiction doesn't mean you are going to become an addict, it just means you have to be careful" (Dr. Hanson). As a child with substance abusing parents there tends to be risks of physical and emotional conflicts. Addiction being within a step family causes instability and impedes the integration of the family. When you are younger and live with a family system with addiction, your concerns as well as needs may go overlooked due to certain chaos cause by the addicts use.
Fortunately there is treatment specifically for family systems affected by addiction. Treatment should be conducted though the three areas of interest: The environment, the system, and the individual. In treating the environment the counselor must accomplish two tasks. The family must create safety from external threats and the internalized family. The family members must tell the story of the trauma. This is an important part of treatment because it helps eliminate the compartmentalizing, denial, and repression characterized by alcoholic families. Most of the treatment will take place in the family system where the counselor works to repair the distortions of reality by education the family on alcoholism and discussing the rules and boundaries of the family. Through treatment many family members may feel depressed, detached, and desire to go back to old ways. In order to counsel individuals, each family member is asked to undergo different exercises, illuminating these undesirable emotions and urges. Once the majority of recovery work is completed, the counselor should focus on stabilizing the family so they develop more healthy patterns of relating.
The family is a unit that must work together to succeed positively in for the best, however when addiction is present the aspects of the family become demented, and there are many negative side effects of the disease. As the family naturally seeks to find homeostasis, the family undergoes problems and a change in its dynamics. The rules and boundaries are set in place in order to protect and preserve the family. Each family member is pressured to take on a variety of roles while they are unaware of these roles, they allow the addict to continue to use without consequence and therefore the negative family dynamics continue to remain. Without intervention or help sought out from family therapy, some of the side effects of addiction in the family can be permanent. Therefore it becomes necessary for family members suffering from addiction or the presence of addiction be aware of this invading disease, as well as, understands that they are not alone and that there is help.