When you first read, “Drug and alcohol addiction is a family disease.” you probably think this article is about how addiction is genetic, as in it is a disease that is passed down from generation to generation. While there is some evidence of this, that’s not the focus here. What we mean by drug and alcohol addiction is a family disease is that the disease of addiction affects the entire family.
How Addiction Affects the Family
When one person is suffering from addiction, everyone who is related to that person is suffering. Addiction is powerful in that way. It takes control of everyone and everything around it.
The easiest way to describe how drug and alcohol addiction affects an entire family is to tell the story of Jason.
Jason was about 17 years old when he first started to use pain pills. He injured himself during a football game and he needed surgery. Following surgery, he was prescribed pain medications. After the doctor wouldn’t refill his prescription, he begged his mother to take him to another doctor. She didn’t know he was addicted at that time. However, after a year, she knew there must have been something else going on, so she did what she thought was best and stopped helping him get pain pills.
Jason went through withdrawals and thought he was off the pain pills until he went to a party in college where various pills and alcohol were being passed around. He didn’t see any harm in having a little fun with them, so he joined in on taking the pills and drinking.
That night turned into another night and then a day and another day. Before he knew it, he was using every day, and couldn’t get his school work done without it. The stressors of college started to compound him and his friends told him that he just needed something a bit stronger to get him through midterms and finals. He tried heroin and it did help him at first, but after having to increase the amount to get the same effects, he started to rely on it all day. It wasn’t easy to get it after a while, and soon, he was spending the time he should have been in class looking for his next hit.
The summer after his first year in college was difficult. The drugs and alcohol took center stage. Jason didn’t want to get a summer job and he didn’t want to go back to school. His parents started to wonder if he was suffering from depression and demanded that he see a psychologist. Unfortunately, that didn’t help much because he simply told the person whatever would get him through the appointment.
Without a job and no motivation to go back to school, Jason stayed at home whenever he wasn’t out with his friends using whatever drug was available and drinking.
His mother was at her wit’s end. She didn’t know what to do. The stress of her isolative son who used to be so open and loving towards her had caused her to feel depressed and anxious. This led to frequent headaches and stomachaches.
Jason’s father was drinking again to cope with the disappointment he was feeling in Jason quitting school, becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol, and not wanting to get help. He also lost his job because he couldn’t focus on it enough due to his drinking and depression.
Jason’s younger sister felt neglected. Her parents were so focused on Jason that they nearly forgot about her. She had to take care of herself, which included cooking her own meals, getting herself to school, and finding rides to extracurricular activities.
As time went on, Jason hit rock bottom. He finally agreed to go to an addiction treatment center to seek the help he needed to break free from his addiction. His mom was overjoyed with his progress and started to feel better mentally and physically. Jason’s father sought treatment for his alcoholism and was able to secure another job. With Jason’s parents feeling much better, his sister was also able to get the support she needed.
Why Jason’s Disease Was a Family One
A family loves one another. This is the basis of a family. When one person is suffering, everyone else wants to stop that suffering because they feel loving that person means doing whatever it takes to help even sacrificing their own health and happiness. It’s not easy to stop suffering when it’s because of addiction. The stress of the never-ending turmoil of the consequences of addiction weighs heavily on the family - physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
As we read in Jason’s story, as he recovered from his addiction, so did his family.
While the suffering that comes out of addiction is different for the user versus the family, there is still suffering involved. This is why a family cannot escape the consequences of addiction without some help. Whether that be a support group such as Al-Anon, a therapist, or friends who understand, families need to recover as much as a person in addiction recovery.
What to Do Now
Chances are, you’re reading this because you are a loved one of someone who is suffering from addiction. You want to help, but you don’t know how to help. Your loved one says this is his/her problem, not yours. Unfortunately, that is the addiction talking, and it full well knows it is your problem - the addiction wants the user to think it’s not affecting anyone else because the grief of it may lead the user right into recovery.
Since your fight is against the addiction, all you can do is stand by your loved one and continue to encourage them to seek help. As you do that, it’s important for you to take that advice but in a different way - get support from a therapist, addiction support organization or in some other way to keep yourself from becoming controlled by the addiction even more.
Share this article with your loved one. It may just be the eye-opening he/she needs to break free from addiction.