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Family Roles in Addiction

Living in a chemically abusing household in which alcohol or drug use is the central theme around which the family operates and tries to maneuver daily life – always has serious and profound effects on all family members. Abuse of a substance generally refers to a chronic pattern of excessive consumption even when there are negative consequences.


These consequences can be physical, emotional, social, and/or financial. One gets hung-over sick, engages in domestic violence perhaps missing work or family functions. Inappropriate behavior becomes embarrassing to family members who quit inviting people over or going places as a couple or family. Relationships become strained with family and friends distancing themselves or even cutting off. Marriages take a serious toll; a couple may eventually isolate themselves from a normal social network. And often the financial cost of frequent alcohol and drug use can put a terrible strain on a family.


Family or others sometimes unwittingly contribute to the development and on-going abuse through nagging, denial, or attempts to control the abuser verbally or otherwise. Increasing aggression can develop over time in intimate family relationships. For example, verbal abuse or aggression early in a relationship can predict later physical aggression; physical aggression can, in turn, lead to more physical aggression as time goes on. Alcohol or drug use makes these relations between earlier and later aggression even stronger.


All the while the family is trying to hold on, believing, hoping, praying that things will change and get better. But it only gets worse as the family members try to cope and compensate for the abuser.


Recent research findings suggest that family therapy, support, and interventions from the outset are important strategies for both the abuser and the struggling, affected family members, caught in the trap of being overly responsible for their loved one.


Families and others close to drinkers and drug users can play a critical role in helping a user recognize a problem and seek help. Recognizing a behavior as a problem and making a decision to change are two different steps. Drinkers often cite family or interpersonal problems as important factors contributing to a decision to seek help. Research supports the effectiveness of family-based treatment interventions to help substance abusers. Behavioral couple therapy often leads to greater improvements in drinking or drug use than individually oriented therapy. Couple therapy also results in more stable and happier intimate relationships, better functioning children, and decreases in domestic violence, than therapy that does not include the partner and/or family. Contracting, relationship interventions, and better communication training are some examples of how therapy can help you, your partner, and your family.


If you have been affected by alcohol or drug use in your past or whether it is affecting your family now, we specialize in treating addictions and working with the entire family.

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