When a family member is suffering from a substance abuse addiction, it can affect the entire family in countless ways. One of the most common is through a dynamic where family members are divided on the reality of the addict in their family. In other words, those that see the addiction for what it is and those that refuse to see that reality.
Denial is a common defense for family members that do not want to face the reality of the addiction that is overwhelming their loved one. It is also common to find that other family members clearly see the problem of addiction, its costs, and the need for stronger intervention.
The reality is that one or more family members understand that helping the addicted family member will require some difficult emotional decisions. They understand that this takes an almost impenetrable emotional resolve to do the right thing where the addict is concerned, which is almost never the easy thing.
These aware family members often see things as they are rather than how they were or would want them to be. Their decisions are based on what will help heal the addicted family member and consequently, the family. This comes with an understanding that even beyond recovery; things will be forever changed from the time before the addiction.
The family member in denial is overwhelmed emotionally by the perceived magnitude and sense of helplessness that the reality of addiction poses. They long to see things as they were before the addiction took hold and will avoid seeing the signs in the early stages as well as make excuses for the extreme behaviors that come from later stage addiction.
Denial can take many forms including enabling and justifying. Both of these behaviors, which come in many forms, will further harm the addicted person as well as the family that is divided on what constitutes reality.
Enabling can take many forms in and of itself. For example, it’s a good thing to help a family member in need under most circumstances, but doing so in certain circumstances where an addict is involved can make matters worse. In every case where it can be called enabling, the problem that the family member is faced with is a result of their addiction.
This enabling can be as simple as covering for them when they miss work to providing financial support when they are involved in a DUI. In any situation where family members take care of the problems created by an addict’s behavior, an enabling dynamic is present.
Justification is often a denial tactic that comes to the forefront when the family member that sees things from a clearer perspective seeks to question the unwise intervention of the family member in denial. The family member in denial will make excuses for the behavior of the addicted family member such as their being under a great deal of stress or going through a difficult stage of life. The reality is that we all have these periods in our life and they are only exacerbated by addictive behaviors.
Codependence can also be at the heart of the behavior of a family member in denial in regards to their treatment of the addicted family member. Although this is a complex dynamic, in essence, the family member becomes reliant on the addicted person’s substance abuse. A simple explanation is that a family member comes to believe that they must support the addicted family member even though the addict’s behavior is incredibly destructive.
The addicted family member uses their powers of persuasion to manipulate the emotions of the family member in denial by convincing them that they are “sick” and will perish without their help. The codependent family member believes them and their fear that the addicted family member will be harmed in some way guides their actions.
The codependent family member then becomes an accomplice in the addict’s behavior and will lend them money or support them in their addictive behaviors. As the cycle repeats itself, the codependent family member begins to derive satisfaction from “helping” the addicted family member, which leads to even more destructive behavior.
All of these dynamics of taking sides can manifest between parents when a child is addicted, and between adult brothers and sisters where another adult sibling is the addict. This last particular scenario can pit the husband or wife of an addict against their adult siblings from either side of the family. The only way to ultimately get the addicted family member the help that they need is to have both sides see the reality of the addiction so that they can form a united front.
When these scenarios manifest themselves, it is unlikely that the divided family members in question can resolve the issue of how to help on their own. The help of a drug and alcohol counselor can often provide the guidance to the aware family member as to how to cope with the family member in denial and stay the course.
The emotional well of the family living with an addict is deep and takes time to reach the bottom in order to sort out the reality. The goal is to go through this journey without wasting time in arguments. The divided family must come to see a common reality sooner rather than later in order to provide the necessary support for the addict. This is the surest path to getting them into recovery and getting the whole family on the road to healing.