When addiction invades a family, it doesn’t politely knock on the front door and ask to come in. It comes in like a bat out of hell with a bloody vengeance. Addiction’s sole mission is to destroy relationships, health, finances, hopes, dreams, and sanity… but it doesn’t stop there. In its quest for pain and destruction, addiction goes after anyone who stands in its way. This includes the addict and the family. The families are left in the wake of addiction feeling hopeless, powerless and broken. They have had addiction consume most areas of their lives (if not all) and are paying the price of addiction even though they are not addicts themselves. Though the family can’t ultimately stop the addict from self-destruction, there are some things they can do to regain their footing and start taking their power back from addiction.
Here are the top 3 things families can do when hit with addiction:
1. Get help
This is the most critical action a family can do, and I don’t just mean help for the addict- help for the families too. That help can come from either a qualified therapist or a support group for families. It’s important to have your support system understand addiction and how it affects families. Just as the addict needs to understand what sobriety means to them, the family needs to understand their role in this process and how it is affecting them.
2. Set firm boundaries with the addict
This is so important and most families have no idea what boundaries they may need to set because they have never had to set them up before (again one more reason why you need to GET HELP). Families are easily manipulated when addiction exploits their care and concern for the addict, hence the importance of setting up a boundary and sticking to it. Your loved one in addiction will continue to test your boundaries and push the limits if allowed to do so.
3. Stay united as a family
The family has to reconnect and rebuild from the destruction of addiction. I have seen families fractured from pain and anger. I have seen depression take over in families as they no longer celebrate important events, laugh with each other, spend time together or just do the fun family stuff they did prior to addiction. I know it’s hard, and I know that families struggle to smile with all the pain and turmoil they are in. However, it’s so important that addiction doesn’t take any more joy than it already has.
Families have to continue making each other a priority and find ways to be emotionally present with each other and continue to invest in each other as before. Maintaining family rituals (pizza night, movie night, game night etc.) are great ways to maintain some structure and connectedness as a family. Hanging out together and laughing with each other again can start breathing life back into families. The addict will most likely not be involved in this process unless they are on the path of sobriety. Until then, the family needs to find solace and healing within each other.
While every family that is faced with the nightmare of addiction is dramatically affected- the ones who get help, follow through with boundaries and stay united as a family to come out on the other side of addiction filled with more hope, peace, and strength than they ever thought initially possible.