Addiction: The Family Disease

people seated on bed holding hands

Addiction is powerful.

It not only changes a person’s life, but it touches everyone that surrounds them. No one is an island. People live in communities, and it is often the family that deals most intimately with someone in addiction. Addiction can become a family disease very quickly, taking hostages and burning out those closest to the person struggling.

You focus on your loved one: what they are doing, where they are, what you can do to help them. It is easy to become caught up in their behaviors and react to their problems. You may attempt to control your loved one’s environments, choices, and actions only to realize that their addiction is the one in control. You may engage in your own unusual behaviors to keep others from finding out that there is addiction in the family. Sometimes, you may take the blame, shame, and guilt associated with the addiction.

Addiction is consuming.

Without realizing it, you have likely become part of their addiction cycle. You may have protected them when they had legal trouble. You may have given them a place to stay. You may have offered to intervene in times of crisis, always lending a hand when no one else in their life was willing. Because you are often the main person your loved one trusts, sometimes it may feel like things always fall on you. You may think that you need (not just want) to provide support, encouragement, and protection, as you are their last place for hope.

If you are a parent to an addicted young adult, you may feel that you are rescuing your child or cleaning up their mistakes as they transition into an adult. No matter your age or position in the family (parent, child, significant other, extended family), you may feel alone, powerless, and frustrated about how your loved one’s crisis. Take time to ask yourself how your life may be better if the behavior of your loved one did not consume you. Take an inventory of your responses to your loved one’s addiction. It is meaningful to see the truth behind them. Coming to terms with reality may be difficult, but being honest and direct with yourself will help build those skills to help your loved one.

Addiction is complicated.

It causes people to do things against their values and beliefs. Your loved one may lie, steal, or cause others pain. Boundaries may have broken, and you may have found yourself enabling their addiction and behaviors. Their choices may have driven a wedge between you and your loved one, causing poor or no communication. It may be frustrating to feel like a bystander in someone’s life who used to be part of your system of support and love. While you may be intending to support your loved one, enabling their behavior may be delaying them from seeking treatment. So keep clear communication and establish the boundaries of your relationship, helping them identify that they must take responsibility for their actions. Know your own boundaries and limits. Stress the importance of accountability for their actions and choices.

Addiction is loud.

Your voice matters and you are not alone. Meet your loved one and yourself where you are. It is okay if you don’t have all the answers. They don’t either. Providing a simple gesture of support and encouragement may provide your loved one with the strength to attend or complete treatment. It may help remind them that stability is within reach. It may provide hope when they feel lost. Being listened to and understood leads to personal growth that, at times, may be painful. You may ease someone’s pain by actively listening and treating them with respect.

Because addiction makes people feel vulnerable, your loved one may react defensively or retaliate when you support them. So ask permission to get involved. Be aware of creating safe places for support and discussion. Speak with them when emotions are calm and not elevated. Use a neutral and calm tone and be clear that you are providing support out of love and concern for their safety. Discussing their strengths and previous accomplishments may aid the conversation.

Addiction is awareness.

Be educated about addiction. It is important to understand what your loved one may be experiencing even if they do not see it clearly themselves. There is a cultural stigma attached to addiction, and we often are not sure how to handle the discussion about it.

You may find you cannot do this on your own. Get backup support. Think about asking another family member to help support you. Or join a family support group such as Al-Anon or Nar-Anon Family Groups. Seek professional help when things may appear overwhelming and complicated. Having a better understanding of how addiction impacts your loved one will only increase your awareness, and it may change your perspective.

Addiction is engagement.

Remember to engage in your own self-care. If your loved one attends treatment, use that time to reflect on managing your thoughts and feelings. Do you need support of your own? A holistic approach suggests that we treat the whole family and not just the one using substances. Think about strengthening your mind, body, and spirit. The stronger you feel, the better support you can provide, especially if you have previously felt burnt out.

Look to increase your own relaxation response. Get sleep, maintain proper nutrition, develop your own exercise program, seek support, look for hobbies, pamper yourself, keep your mind sharp, use positive affirmations, process emotions, and maintain a spiritual practice.

Addiction is domineering.

But it does not need to be all-consuming. Reach out for support and help. You don’t have to do this alone.


If you or a loved one is struggling with drugs or alcohol, call 888 833 4676. Our team of experts is here to help.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, Mountainside can help.
Click here or call (888) 833-4676 to speak with one of our addiction treatment experts.