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The Problem of Addiction In The Family

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The uniqueness of family and individual stories

Family is a very important element of reference for everyone. A man is born into a family. Even if his family does not currently exist, you can always reconstruct a certain history of it, which shapes unconscious intergenerational messages that affect the life of an individual from the moment of birth to his death. The family is sometimes described using a family tree, on which we discover the fate of at least two families that meet in a parental, marriage or partnership relationship.

The family is understood as a system in which individual members influence each other. In understanding family phenomena, there are no simple cause-and-effect relationships, but a certain circular dynamics is observed, i.e. the reaction of one person causes a response in the other, and the reaction of the latter in turn causes a response in the first (feedback loops). Individual family members therefore constantly react to the behavior of their relatives and each other. Every family system strives to maintain internal balance. Various external situations and the development of individual people and the development of the family cause changes within this system and its destabilization. Some of these changes are natural and some are unpredictable. When a crisis situation arises, the family organizes around it and concentrates on the reactions caused by this situation in order to maintain the existing balance. This does not always work, and then change is necessary.

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Each person in the family would like to have the best possible conditions for their individual development, but also to have a sense of bond with other family members. Therefore, the key role in the proper functioning of a human being is played by the balance between the fulfillment of the need for belonging (being together) and separation. The better individual family members function, maintaining a balance between dependence and independence, the more efficiently the needs of all family members are met and their roles, tasks, etc. are fulfilled. The whole family functions more efficiently and the level of satisfaction and psychosocial functioning of individual individuals is higher.

Excessive alcohol drinking, drug use, drug abuse, and gambling generate all sorts of family problems. Addiction affects the functioning of the entire family system. Crises appear, interpersonal difficulties intensify and the level of security and mutual trust decreases. There are losses in terms of physical and mental health as well as material losses of both the addicted person and individual family members. No one remains indifferent to the difficulties that arise as a result of addiction in a family member.


Stages of family adaptation to the problem of addiction

Denial of problems

The family in which addiction develops goes through several phases. First of all, there is a denial that the problem of addiction exists at all. Explaining the problems with various circumstances means that the addicted person does not take responsibility for their behavior, and often they are not aware of the problem. Initially, the denial mechanism has a regulatory function in order to maintain balance in the family system, but in the long run it causes the accumulation of tension and contributes to the increase of stressful situations without adequate solutions. The short-term gain is that you can’t stay the way you are without changing anything.

Problems escalating

However, family relationships, over time, deteriorate, grow: resentment, hostility, helplessness, shame, sadness, anger, hatred and other difficult experiences, until living in one house becomes unbearable. Individual family members deal with the behavior of an addict in different ways, e.g. during the direct use of a psychoactive substance, various intense unpleasant emotions (anger, hatred, fear) and behaviors (fury, aggression, attack, suicide threats) may appear, this often becomes an excuse to continue in addiction.

Over time, this person takes compromising actions, causing family members shame and embarrassment. During the period of intensive use of a psychoactive substance, behaviors such as stealing money, absence from home, spending time on drinking occur at the expense of study, work or fulfilling household duties. It’s hard not to see the damage that addiction causes.


Periods of abstinence of an addict are also problematic for family members. It seems that the problem has been solved, there is hope and faith that everything will be fine, that the situation will change for the better, mutual promises and assurances are made that dramatic moments will not return.

 The feeling of guilt that an addicted person experiences at that time can influence various behaviors to compensate for negligence and situations of tension. Often, family members do not perceive this period as difficult, and it is the period that most perpetuates the entanglement and sustains persistence in a chronically destructive situation, without making a change.

This time of hope intensifies unrealistic thinking, expressed in such beliefs as: “if the husband stops drinking alcohol, everything will be fine”, “if he stops playing slot machines, we will finally pay off our debts and get straight”. After some time, the situation repeats itself. Suffering reappears, increasing over time, especially when the addict regularly returns to addictive behavior. Helplessness and loss of self-confidence and the ability to control one’s life are increasing.

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Family members, wanting to maintain the current balance in the family, organize their activities around the difficulties that appear on a daily basis as a result of behaviors related to the active addiction of one of the members. Initially, the family, not noticing the seriousness of the situation, lowers its vigilance to the growing difficulties in partner and parental relationships, in performing everyday duties, meeting needs, and communicating. Family conflicts can be dramatic and can turn into various forms of physical and/or psychological and economic violence.

 An often repeated scenario is that as the problem escalates, family members begin to withdraw from social contact, thus limiting the possibility of receiving help. Experiencing shame, they begin to hide their problem not only from the outside environment, but also avoid talking about it among themselves, which causes general confusion. Chaos and helplessness are growing in families during this isolation. There is an increasing violation of the sense of security and mutual distrust, and often the inability to solve the problem on your own. This is a particularly difficult situation for children who, out of loyalty to their family, follow the rule: “don’t tell”, which secondarily blocks the possibility of seeking support from other adults.

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