Damaged Family Bonds
Addictions change the dynamics in a family system. Trust is broken, feelings of safety may be in jeopardy, and uncertainty about the future looms over everyone's head. Initially, family members may have been misled by lies and deceptions, unable to believe that their loved one could have changed so much.
Addictions change a person's moods and thinking processes. Once addictions take hold, the addict's priorities change as well. The addiction takes priority over relationships. The loving, honest individual that family members knew may be hidden behind the screen of addictions.
Based on warm memories, family members may become enablers in their attempts to help the addict return to the person they remembered. Enabling is anything a person does that makes it easier for the addict to obtain and use his substance or engage in his compulsive behaviors. Here are some examples of enabling:
Paying the addict's debts
Making excuses for the addict's behaviors
Lying to the addict's boss when she doesn't want to go to work because of a hangover
Continuing to forgive addictive behaviors that are inexcusable
Ignoring suspicious addictive behaviors as if they never happened
Refusing to hold an addict accountable for rude, abusive behaviors
Taking over household responsibilities that the addict should rightfully be sharing
Frequently, family members blame themselves for their loved one becoming involved in addictions. Enabling can be a way of trying to soothe one's conscience. It is also a way of trying to draw the addict back into family relationships. Although family members believe they are trying to help with enabling behaviors, the opposite is true.
Recovery requires accountability. Initially, the addict may resent accountability, believing it restricts her personal freedom. Family members may resist holding the addict accountable out of fear the addict will rebel and the situation will worsen. The fact is that accountability releases family members from their fears and frees the addict to pursue recovery and a healthy future.
Enabling prolongs denial on all parts and allows the addict to avoid facing his disease of addiction. This means that treatment and recovery are postponed, allowing the addiction to progress to a more serious, and perhaps, more lethal stage. When enabling doesn't work, family members may change tactics and try to control the addict.
Telling the addict what he has to do, where he can go, and with whom he can associate typically leads to angry shouting matches. The intent to redirect the addict away from his addiction is good, but ineffective. When it seems that every attempt to help their addicted loved one has failed, family members may withdraw in despair.
At this point, family members may try to continue their own lives as usual, hiding painful emotions as they watch their loved one deteriorate. Relationships are damaged and it may feel that the addiction has gained the upper hand. It doesn't have to stay this way.