Alcohol and drug abuse are common problems across the UK, but far from affecting only the individual, these issues have negative consequences for many individuals aside from the abuser. It is easy to assume that the person abusing the mood-altering substance is the only one who will be affected, but in truth, family members also suffer. It can be difficult for addicts to comprehend the damage that their behaviour can cause to others, but family members often do not realise how their own behaviour has changed in response to that of their addicted loved one. One side effect that commonly affects family and friends of addicts is co-dependency. However, what exactly is co-dependency in addiction? Moreover, how does it affect the lives of those closest to an addict?
How the Family Unit Is Affected by Addiction?
Everyone close to the addict will feel the effects of this person’s illness. They may not realise it in the beginning, but as time goes by and they take a good look at their own behaviour, they will start to realise that it has changed.
Although family members tend to branch out and live their own lives, they will all still be connected, and when one member becomes ill, others will react in various ways. When that illness is a dependency on alcohol or drugs, some family members will get upset and may be ashamed or embarrassed. Others will get angry with the addict and will find it hard to comprehend how this person could have allowed this to happen. This attitude is common among those who do not fully understand addiction and the fact that it is an illness. They do not understand that the person with the illness has no control over it.
The family unit can be greatly affected when one member develops a serious addiction to alcohol or drugs. The first response of some members will be to jump into action and tell the addict that he or she has to get help. This is true, of course – the addict does need help, but until he or she is able to see that, any begging and pleading on the part of family members will usually fall on deaf ears.
This can leave loved ones feeling frustrated and angry with the addict. They cannot see why this person does not just agree to get help or simply stop drinking or taking drugs. Surely if they were to do that, then everything would be okay and could get back to normal? Unfortunately, it just does not work like that.
What Is Meant by Co-Dependency?
As the addiction progresses and begins to affect more of the individual’s life, those closest to him or her will also be affected greatly. Some may even suffer with co-dependency. At this point, you may still be wondering what is co-dependency in addiction and whether you could be affected or not.
Those who suffer with co-dependency can be said to have their own addiction; nevertheless, their addiction is to their addicted loved one and not a chemical mood-altering substance. The life of the co-dependent person will start to revolve around the addict, so much so that his or her behaviour may change in response to things the addict does or does not do.
Coping with the stress of living with an addicted individual may cause certain people to change the way they act. They may start doing things that are totally out of character as a coping mechanism.
Forms of Co-Dependency in Addiction
There are many different forms that co-dependency can take in addiction. For example, the co-dependent person may begin covering up for the addict. Family members often cover up for the person they love either because they are trying to protect the addict or because they are covering up their own shame or embarrassment about the situation.
The stigma that surrounds addiction can mean that family members do not want others to know when one member of the family is affected. They may be afraid that they will be judged or looked down on because of this illness. Some will feel guilty and will blame themselves and will respond by trying to do all they can to help the addict; if this means covering for him or her, then so be it.
Some will withdraw into themselves in response to the actions of their addicted loved one. This is particularly true for the spouses and children of addicts who would prefer not to socialise with others for fear that their secret will be discovered.
If a family member fears that their addicted loved one will make a scene or embarrass them while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, they will usually avoid any situations where this could happen. Children might isolate themselves in school and avoid making friends so that they do not have to invite them over.
Parents of addicts, in particular, can be guilty of rationalising the behaviour of their addicted child. They may make excuses as to why he or she is acting this way. For example, they will say that it is the stress of their home or work life that makes him or her turn to chemical substances.
Blame is another consequence of co-dependency. Those who are affected by this may blame themselves for the illness. They will feel that there may have been something different that they could have done to prevent it. Others will blame the addicted individual for the problems that are occurring in their life, while some will look for others to blame such as friends or even the Government or society.
The Dangers of Co-Dependency
Co-dependency can be damaging to the addict and his or her family members. Those who cover up for the addict will be under immense stress trying to cope with the actions of their addicted loved one. They will supress the pain they are feeling, which can often lead to stress and anxiety.
Covering up will also do the addict no good. He or she will be free to get on with the addictive behaviour as long as there is no accountability for his or her actions. Even as the illness is getting worse, the addict will be under no obligation to do anything about his or her situation while loved ones are pretending that nothing is amiss.
If family members are acting as though nothing is wrong, the addict may not even realise that he or she is in big trouble. The loved ones of the addict may believe that they are helping the addict but what they are actually doing is enabling him or her to continue on a downward spiral of destruction.
Enabling is another thing that many family members of addicted individuals do in their quest to help their loved one. The actions of loved ones often allow the addict to continue behaving in a destructive manner. They may lie to employers as to why the addict is unable to go to work or they may give him or her money to pay for food or bills, knowing full well that this person has used all his or her own money for drugs or alcohol. Failure to hold the addict to account will mean that he or she will never get the help needed to get better.
How to Help a Loved One with Addiction?
It is difficult for many family members to hold back when a loved one is affected by addiction. The temptation to try to help the addict is strong, but what most people do not realise is that ‘helping’ the addict is often akin to enabling.
Most addicts will be unable to reach out for help without a little push. At the very least, they must be made to accept the fact that they have a problem. Burying your head in the sand means allowing them to continue with their addictive behaviour unchecked. If you want to help your loved one overcome addiction, you must address the situation and suggest the possibility that professional help may be required.
You are likely to be met with angry denials or defensive behaviour, but do not be deterred. This is completely normal. Most addicts will be practicing denial to some extent. Even if they know deep down that there is a problem, they may find it easier to pretend that nothing is wrong because they are not yet ready to quit the substance that is destroying their life.
However, you need to remember that until your loved one can accept a diagnosis of addiction, he or she will not be in a position to get better. You may need to issue an ultimatum before this can happen. Alternatively, you could hold a family intervention to encourage your loved one into treatment.
What Is an Intervention?
An intervention is a process that is designed to help an addict realise the extent of the damage his or her actions are causing to the lives of loved ones. A group of family members and close friends will usually come together to try to persuade the addict to get help.
This will be in the form of a meeting where each person present will explain how the actions of the addict have had a negative impact on his or her life. Family members can take care of this themselves or they can employ the services of a professional interventionist who will guide the meeting and make sure that it runs smoothly.
The wonderful thing about interventions is that they are hugely successful when it comes to getting addicts into treatment. If you would like more information about how to stage your own intervention, please get in touch with us here at Middlegate.
We can help addicts and their families to access treatment for addiction with providers based in all areas of the UK. If you would like answers to any queries you may have or if you want to know more about what is co-dependency in addiction, please do not hesitate to contact us today.