Lorelie Rozzano is a guest blogger for Vertava Health.
Keeping The Peace. Surviving In Families With Addiction.
When a family member struggles with addiction, everyone in the family feels it. Living with a substance abuser is intense, scary, painful and chaotic. To minimize the chaos balance is sought within the family system.
Family dynamics are the patterns of relating, or interactions, between family members. Each family is unique, although there are some common patterns. The most common of these patterns are roles defined to keep the peace and allow the family to survive the insanity being played out in their home.
The family typically adapts to the chemically dependent person by giving in to their demands and meeting all their needs. This behavior is also known as survival, co-dependent or enabling. The payoff from giving in is reduced stress in the home, allowing the family to function as normal as possible under the circumstances.
If your loved one is addicted, you’ve told them you’re worried. You’ve begged them to stop. You’ve coddled them and threatened them and yelled at them, but they refuse to listen to logic. They’re not listening because addiction isn’t logical.
Addiction is an irrational disease that affects the area of the brain responsible for reasoning and impulse control. It is also delusional. Nobody ever believes overdose will happen to them. But overdose can happen to anyone. A teenager at a party trying cocaine for the first time. A married couple at the bar popping tabs of ecstasy. Or a pain pill bought off the streets.
When you’re looking for a good time, you’re not thinking about death. You’re thinking about getting high and having fun. People who are prone to addiction have poor impulse control. They are more likely to engage in risky behaviors and have difficulties staying focused. They thrive in chaos and are bored by balance and/or routine.
If that weren’t bad enough, addiction is greedy. It takes down entire families. It overshadows all that is good and right in our world, leaving family members feeling anxious, stressed and despairing. To stay safe, families become tolerant of emotionally abusive (and sometimes physically abusive) behaviors.
Keeping the peace means saying yes when no is the right answer. It means turning a blind eye and a deaf ear. It also means keeping the addicted person happy at the cost of everyone else in the family. You learn to bite your lip and shut down your emotions. Although it’s not said, it’s known – the most important person in addicted families is the addict. This person is the only one who can get his/her needs met within the family system.
The cost of being a peacekeeper is not free. Over time, living life on high alert plays havoc with every aspect of your body and negatively affects all your relationships. However, many experiencing this are unaware of their decline. Neither the person abusing substance nor their family notices the changes occurring within themselves because they are ‘other’ focused. The addicted person focuses on getting their next fix. Where can I get drugs? Where can I get money? Where can I hide my drugs? And the family member focuses on the addict. Are they okay? Are they in a bad mood? Are they high? Did they eat? Where are they? What will they do next?
Other focused individuals lack self-awareness. Substance abusers are unaware they’ve become addicted until they experience withdrawal symptoms. Family members are unaware they’ve become dependent until their physical/psychological/emotional body breaks down.
Putting up with or making excuse for the addicted person is not an act of love. If anything, it is just the opposite. Enabling a substance abuser is aiding in their demise.
Addiction is a complicated subject. There is nothing easy about it. People do not all struggle the same. Some have substance use disorder only. Others have chronic mental health issues and substance use disorder. You also have to look at environment and trauma, mood disorders, personality disorders, how long the person was using and what they’re using. There are many contributing factors to this puzzle.
Substance use disorder changes the brain chemistry. Behavior is greatly affected. Imagine you were drowning and you needed air. What would you do to get it? Addiction is found in the fight/flight area of the brain. The part of the brain responsible for survival. This part of the brain says get drugs or die. It’s instinctual, not conscious. Addicted persons can also be narcissistic or struggle with an inferiority complex.
Family members navigating the murky waters of addiction alone, are in fact drowning. Addiction is too big and powerful for any one person or family to deal with on their own. Survival is meant to keep you temporarily safe but you were never meant to build a lifestyle around it. You may continue to stay in survival mode until you are 80, but if you’re already feeling dead inside you’re not really living.
To recover from addiction either directly or indirectly you must speak your truth, be your truth and live your truth. As Oscar Wilde so beautifully says, “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”
But all is not glum. There is great news! 23 million people across North America are happy, healthy and living amazing lives in recovery. Change is possible. With a little help, you can live a life that makes you smile, not cry. If you’re tired of being sick and tired pick up the phone and call the number below.
If you or someone you know needs help, please call this confidential support line for assistance. 1-888-614-2379.