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Addiction: A Family Disease

02/07/2018 0 48 views

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By: Dr. Premkumar Shanmugam

CEO & Clinical Director of Solace Sabah

MA Research (Psychology, Singapore) – Bachelor (Psychology, USA)


Addiction is often called a “family disease”. Although it initially only affects and changes the addicted individual, as it progresses it also starts affecting those around said individual, who are most commonly the family. Addiction changes one’s way of life quite drastically and in a progressive manner. It is only natural that such affliction, newly formed obsessive behavior and diminished quality of life in one family member, would eventually start spreading its effects to other members of that family.

The rise of addiction within a family system causes everyone to suffer emotionally, psychologically, financially and physically. While these hardships become quickly apparent on the addicted upon observation, they slowly but surely start affecting the family and the signs are sometimes not as obvious. Obsessive drug seeking drives addicted persons to financial ruin, and many turn to their families in attempts to acquire more funds, usually by request, sometimes by demand, and even at times, by theft. Family members’ worrying about his or her psychological and physical well-being can in turn negatively affect their own. In dealing with the whole dilemma, emotions run high, raising psychological challenges which can eventually manifest as physical health issues.

Adapting to the situation at hand, family members usually take on certain roles (like an actor’s part in a play) as a means of dealing with all the pain present within the family. Revolving around the addicted person(s), they play different roles such as the “persecutor” who is always on the offensive, criticizing but not presenting any solutions; the “rescuer” who comes to the defense of anyone under such criticism, but ignores the problem itself; the “enabler” who aids the unhealthy behavior of others, including the drug use itself; among other roles. These roles make for a quite unhealthy family system as they almost always fail to address the problem at its core. These roles also breed and accelerate codependency, since family members depend on each other’s roles to stay “safe”.

A common misconception is that the solution is as simple as sending the addicted for rehabilitation. While that is an important step, it is worthy of note that he or she is not the only one who needs recovery. The entire family dynamic must recover from the experience they have been through. Having had addiction in the home, the family will have to deal with their own resulting codependency, of which aspects include low self-worth, control issues, denial, poor communication, weak boundaries, trust issues and anger.

Having all of that in one household is overwhelming, to say the least. Therefore, family counselling is always recommended in these cases. Once the addicted achieve abstinence for a period of time and start showing significant change, families should also help and support this change. It takes time and effort, but with positive changes in communication and handling relationships in general, families can collectively recover from such setbacks and aspire for a brighter future.

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