About the Family with Addiction
Unique Characteristics of an Alcoholic Family
Despite the internal family distress, outside observance of the family in their daily affairs often fails to show the presence of an alcoholic member. In families where alcohol addiction is prevalent, family members become isolated from the community because of the negative societal stigma. Culture plays an important role on how alcoholism shows itself within a family; however, there are some common factors that are present in all families where there is alcohol abuse. Recent research suggests that in families where alcohol abuse is present, there is incredible endurance to long-term stress and these families have highly complex behavioral systems. They often learn to adapt behaviorally in such unique ways in order to survive the challenges that come with living with the effects of alcohol abuse that it is worthy of admiration.
In most families where there is alcohol abuse, the alcohol abuse is the big family secret. Levels of denial vary for each family member. Some deny the problem absolutely, others acknowledge it but minimize the seriousness of it and some explain it away as something else.
The entire family system centers on the alcoholism, and unknowingly, the techniques that families use to cope with the problem tend to make the drinking worse. The alcoholic’s behavior is so reactive and unpredictable that family members tiptoe around the alcoholic in an attempt to avoid triggering volatile and destructive behavior. Because this volatile behavior is part of the alcohol addiction, this careful behavior fails to help the situation. Family members learn to communicate in very unclear ways in an attempt to avoid volatile behavior, using language that has ambiguous meanings. This unclear way of communicating only adds to the tensions that already exist within the family.
Children form a sub-system within the family. The adult couple often stay in the marriage for the sake of the children but run into great difficulty when the children grow up because the partnership relationship is basically non-existent. Because of the tension between the parents, the children will often take on the job of helping their parents communicate, and thus the children become stuck in the middle, and often blame themselves for their parent’s struggles. Children are often drawn in to meet the emotional needs of the spouse who feels abandoned by the addicted spouse in the relationship. Family members have had to endure endless broken promises and they are often very angry and may use various emotional methods of punishing the alcoholic, such as refusing to talk to them. The alcoholic is pushed to the periphery; feeling the pain of this withdrawal, the addicted person continues to drink more in an attempt to numb out the emotional pain, which, in turn, causes greater distancing and reinforces the unwanted behavior.
Because family members develop unhealthy attitudes in order to cope with the daily stress, the whole family becomes sick, and develops many of the same unhealthy attitudes as the alcohol addicted member.
Family of the Alcoholic
The family life where alcoholism is present can be demonstrated by using a mobile. The mobile is perfectly balanced yet when one piece becomes out of balance the whole system is out of balance . Within the family system, individual family members utilize coping strategies that become defining roles. Each role is an attempt to fill some necessary aspect of the family life. Some of the common roles within the family are:
The Lost Child
It has been established that there is a correlation between those who have problems with addiction and those who have often been raised in families where there was ineffective and inappropriate communication. These people have learned that sharing feelings is fearful. These children are much more susceptible to displaying addictive behavior later in life.
A great deal of research has been done in an attempt to understand the cause and effect of addiction. This issue is extremely complex because people use substances for different reasons; people choose specific behaviors for individual reasons; in the case of the alcohol dependent person, drinking habits are unique; and each person has a unique set of life circumstances that are not exactly duplicatable for research purposes.
Trying to understand the whys behind addiction is not an easy task. I will give some examples to emphasize my point. Because alcohol addiction is so prevalent in our society I will refer to typical patterns for alcohol use. Alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence develops and progresses in various recognized patterns and styles. Some people abuse alcohol from their first experience and continue in a slow progression toward alcohol dependence; others may drink socially for many years and suddenly, progress rapidly into alcohol dependence. In some instances, people routinely abuse alcohol at periodic intervals, never moving into physical dependence yet life revolves around the obsessive thoughts and actions of alcohol use; and, still, others may drink continually on a daily basis. There has been extensive research that has attempted to isolate a specific genetic predisposition toward alcohol dependence, however, to date, none of the findings have been conclusive.