According to the Betty Ford Center, a national study on drug use and abuse in 2004 showed that 8.5 million Americans age 12 years and older were addicted to alcohol and another 5 million were addicted to another drug. That is far more than the current population of New York City, the nation’s largest city. With so many people facing addiction, imagine three or four times that many people who are affected by the addict as a member of the immediate family. There are numerous ways drug and alcohol abuse can affect a family.
If you live in a home with a person addicted to drugs or alcohol, you have a better chance of seeing or experiencing incidents of domestic violence and child abuse. According to a study published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse Research, there is a direct correlation between alcohol and drug abuse and domestic violence. One nonprofit alcohol abuse awareness organization, Alcoholics Victorious, says mothers convicted of child abuse are three times more likely to be alcoholics and fathers convicted are 10 times more likely to be alcoholics.
The ways a family can be burdened financially by having an alcoholic or drug abuser in the home are endless. They range from the support of the addict who cannot hold down a job to assisting in legal matters that arise from the abuse (for example, DUI, public drunkenness charges). Sometimes when the addict is the primary earner in the household, it often means there is not enough money to buy proper food or clothing for children or enough to pay the rent because of the money spent to support the habit. Even noncustodial parents in post-divorce situations are less likely to provide child support if they are an addict.
Shame, guilt, self-pity and anger are among the emotions felt by family members of an addict. These emotions are called “intoxicant emotions” because they make a person feel “intoxicated” by dramatically changing the way he or she feels when indulging in these emotions, according to First Step Services, a drug and alcohol abuse counseling service.
The actions of the addict in the family often results in embarrassment and shame in the community or among friends. Guilt will plague family members when they take a stand against the addict and see him or her shattered because of it. Self-pity and anger often go together as the internal dealings with the addict in the family are thought about more and more. It is common to become angry about the situation as members of the family ask with increasing frequency, “Why is this happening to us?”
All of the complications involved in living with an addict or having a loved one who is engulfed by drug or alcohol abuse cause major stress. Family members fear for the safety of their loved one, wonder if the addict will still be alive the next day, and fret over the possibility of the family member hurting him- or herself or another person or ending up in prison. The list goes on and on, and every facet of life is chained with a “what if’s” relating to the addict’s actions.
Affected Family Syndrome
First Step Services outlines a process that families may go through when dealing with an addict that is referred to as affected family syndrome. During the process, families consumed by these intoxicant emotions go through four stages that lead the family down a path of destruction just like the addict until they “bottom out.”
1. The concern stage is simply the family’s genuine concern about the person. They usually have no idea what they are up against at this point.
2. The defense stage consists of the family’s going in and out of a type of denial and lying to friends, family and employers to help the addict keep his or her life together. These actions are called “blockouts” because families tend to block out the reality of the situation and begin to tolerate the addict’s behavior, therefore beginning to feel guilty for their own actions.
3. The adaptation stage is when the family tries to adapt their own behavior to be able to coexist with the addict. They may become obsessed with the addict or begin using drugs or alcohol themselves. It is possible that they will try to become “perfect” in the eyes of the addict in an attempt to try to make the addict happy and change the addict’s behavior.
4. The exhaustion stage age is when the family hits the bottom. The family members begin to defend their emotions just like an addict defends the use of the drug. The sense of self-worth disappears as failure and fear take over their lives. It is at this point that families must choose to find help or be destroyed.