Living in Active Addiction


According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), dependence on alcohol and drugs is our most serious national public health problem. Addiction is widespread among rich and poor, in all regions of the country, and all ethnic and social groups. Research dictates that millions of Americans misuse or are dependent on alcohol or drugs. Many of them have families who suffer the consequences of living with this illness. If there is alcohol or drug dependency in your family, remember you are not alone. Most individuals who abuse alcohol or drugs have jobs and are productive members of society creating a false hope in the family that “it’s not that bad.” The problem is that addiction tends to worsen over time, hurting both the addicted person and all the family members. It is especially damaging to young children and adolescents.

If you find yourself living in active addiction, you may have noticed a tendency to deflect pain and rationalize behavior to avoid seeing your loved one’s behavior as problematic. There is the idea that if our loved one would just “get sober” then everything would be better. However, this is always far from reality. Deep-seated problems that were always there will not be cured by erasing alcohol and pills from the family picture and may manifest themselves in other ways.

Addiction – A Family Disease

Think of your family as a multi-armed, multilayered baby mobile, with each family member hanging at the end of each arm, living his or her own life. Every move, every action by one person sends the mobile into action, forcing everyone to react and restore balance. As the addiction progresses, the family starts to look like a mobile in a windstorm. The arms are flailing, and nothing is working. To keep the mobile in balance, everyone begins to play a role.

How Alcohol and Drug Abuse Affects Relationships

  • Codependency: There are people on the mobile that become addicted to the “addict” and their emotions and behaviors begin to revolve around that of the addict, leading to Covering up, rationalizing, withdrawing, blaming, controlling, and checking out.
  • Enabling: Those who live with addicted persons will adapt in such a way that it makes it easier for the “addict.” Spouses take over responsibilities, forgive unforgivable behavior, and live in crazy conditions to demonstrate caring and loving.  These behaviors occur out of a fear of holding another person accountable will be painful.
  • Denial: You are getting help and yet your loved one(s) is/ are still abusing substances in your presence and projecting their problems onto you. Getting help creates a new action and if the mobile has been spinning in a certain direction, sobriety will create another unbalancing of the mobile.

My Loved One Completed Inpatients Treatment, Now What?

For almost all relationships, the first year of sobriety can be difficult. Deep-seated issues that the drug or alcohol was used to cope with are now there to be dealt with in sobriety. For some, it may mean the end of a relationship; for others, it may mean the partner finds his/ her own support group through AA, Al-Anon or another 12-step program. If the problems are severe, then seeking therapy with a professional counselor may be needed.

If your loved one is your child, you may experience different complications in sobriety. Children learn to manipulate and triangulate at an incredibly young age to get their needs met. They carry these strategies into their adolescent and young adult years, and this can be difficult to change as they have cultivated these responses to their caregivers behavior. As with the mobile mentioned earlier, when your child receives treatment, they may begin to change some of their behaviors, and yet we respond the same. In a way, this can offset any work done and the loved one returns to old behavior relatively quickly. Family members can find solace is attending support groups like Parents of Addicted Loved Ones (PALs) to find suggestions and support from other parents experiencing the same challenges.

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