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How Family and Friends Survive an Addiction

Written By Mauri Hackett CRADC Family Counselor at New Hope Recovery Center

Family and friends can survive a loved one’s addiction to alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex and other addictions.  In fact the relationship with their loved one can grow to be deeper and more meaningful than ever.  For this to happen, both the addict and their family and friends will need to participate in a family-oriented treatment program.

In recent decades, social attitudes have changed greatly towards addiction.  While there remains a social stigma attached to being an alcoholic or an addict, there is also an increased awareness regarding the positive effects of recovery and recovering persons.  Along with the increase in social awareness, there has been a pronounced shift due to a greater understanding of addiction as a disease.

Within interpersonal relationships (partners, parents, children, siblings, and close friends) knowing that someone is afflicted with a disease does not always alleviate feelings of abandonment, betrayal, distrust, anger, and other emotional pain.  After years of living with a person who is in the ever increasing spiral of addiction, loved ones can often lose hope.  They fear they will lose their relationship or, even worse, lose the person they love to the addiction.

The thinking and behavior of the addicted person can be severely impacted while under the influence of drugs and alcohol and/or when consumed by their addiction.   The impaired interactions and judgments of the addict can have long lasting affects on their relationships.  The immediate response by family members, friends and partners may be an array of emotions including fear, concern and anger.  Over time, patterns of behavior may emerge and the reactions to those behaviors become part of the relationship dynamic between the addicted person and their loved ones.  These emerging unhealthy relationship dynamics can lead to alienation, a period of estrangement, or even the end of the relationship entirely.

Once an addicted person enters rehab and begins an active recovery treatment program, they may begin to stabilize emotionally and regain perspective on the value of their relationships. In order to re-establish trust and to strengthen the bonds of strained relationships one must take time and put in the work.  Learning to identify unhealthy interactions and then replace them with alternate healthy ones requires awareness, commitment and effort by all those involved.

For family and friends supporting the recovering person, it is important:

(1) to let go of being overly responsible for others,

(2) to learn how to set healthy boundaries, and most importantly,

(3) to let go of their emotional attachment to the decisions of the recovering person, including the recovering persons decision to get or remain sober.

It is important when reconstructing a relationship to accept the reality of the situation and abandon false ideals of how things should be or should have been. Given the gravity of the situation, each person needs to work their own recovery program.  Family members, partners and friends can attend Al-anon, Codependents Anonymous (CODA), Al-ateen, Families Anonymous, or Recovering Couples Anonymous (RCA), and Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA), and various other 12-step group meetings for support.  In addition, support from licensed therapists and counselors for individual, family, and couples can be helpful in the healing process.  A good recovery program will include support for the family and can be a valuable resource.

Relationships with Alcoholics or Addicts can survive and even thrive, when

(1) family and friends are educated about the disease of addiction and gain a healthier understanding of the disease concept,

(2) family and friends engage in their own personal recovery program, and

(3) when the family and friends learn how to communicate openly and honestly.

Relationships damaged by the crisis of addiction can survive, thrive and even grow as each person heals and recovers.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction and you would like to take the first steps toward healing yourself and your relationships, contact New Hope Recovery Center. We provide a continuum of treatment programs with Family Programming as a key component of all programs.