Addiction and the Link to Social Withdrawal Among Family Members
Addiction affects not only the person who abuses the drug, but the entire household as well. Chemical substance abuse is often referred to as a family disease for this very reason. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc, addiction affects the whole family unit in the following ways:
- It jeopardizes the stability of the home.
- It causes discord among members.
- It can cause deterioration in both the mental and physical health of members.
- It often threatens finances.
- It negatively impacts the previous family dynamic.
Families who live with an addicted person — whether a parent, spouse, or child — often feel inhibited by the situation without realizing it.
What Does It Mean to Feel Inhibited?
Merriam-Webster offers up several definitions of the word “inhibited,” but, in paraphrasing, the one that comes closest to describing the personal development of individuals involved in a family marked by drug abuse is the one that refers to “a neurotic restraint upon a normal impulse or activity — such as the ability to think or concentrate — caused by psychological inner conflicts … or outside sources.”
This describes the family members of addicts in a nutshell — because the addiction grows over time, they adapt, making slow and gradual compensations for the addicted person. If the change were sudden and drastic, it would be easy to recognize and react appropriately. But addiction is a disease of growing compulsion. Over time, the compensations become the norm, and those making them don’t even realize it — a spouse may give up the opportunity for overtime to rush home and check on a significant other who is an alcoholic. A teen may forego having sleepovers because the behavior of the addicted parent is too embarrassing. Little adjustments like these can become lifetime habits without intervention — thus inhibiting the personal development of family members who live in the home with the addict.
What Inhibition Looks Like
The Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization has discovered common inhibitions in the lives of those whose parent or parents suffer from addiction:
- They often feel isolated or uncomfortable around others.
- They tend to become people-pleasers.
- They may feel unnaturally threatened by criticism.
- They became addicts themselves or married addicts. (because it felt “normal”)
- They are subject to compulsions such as workaholism or over-achieving.
- They are super-responsible or super-irresponsible, with no in-between.
- They suffer guilt when attempting to set boundaries.
These are only several of the obstacles which adult children find themselves facing daily. Without intervention and healing, these idiosyncrasies can become lifelong barriers to happiness and personal growth.
Healing for the Whole Family Unit
Happily, healing is possible for entire families who are caught in the chaotic cycle of one person’s addiction. Seeking professional counseling is an important first step toward stopping destructive behaviors and magical thinking (if I just do this, then that will happen). So are support group meetings. Communicating with others who are fighting the same battles you’re fighting is always a source of inspiration and relief. Educating yourself on common inhibitions present in family members of addicts is also helpful.
Addiction is a family disease, and it takes the entire family to fight it if everyone is to emerge healthy and well-adjusted on the other side.
- Family Disease; National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc; retrieved from http://ncadd.org/index.php/for-friends-and-family/family-disease-and-recovery on May 23, 2015.
- Medical Definition of Inhibition; Merriam-Webster; retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/medical/inhibition on May 23, 2015.
- The Problem; Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization; retrieved from http://www.adultchildren.org/lit-Problem on May 23, 2015.