Is Addiction a Family Disease?

Despite the stigma that is still associated with addiction, many people are still asking “is addiction a family disease?” It is irrefutable that addiction is in fact a clinical disease. In fact, addiction is defined as a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and the individual’s life experiences. It is a chronic, relapsing disease of the brain that worsens as use continues. In short, the longer that drugs or alcohol are abused, the more damage the body and brain sustain, making recovery more challenging (but not impossible). This damage is one factor that contributes to an individual’s regular, repeated substance abuse. 

There is no doubt that the disease of addiction deeply impacts the person who is grappling with it. It can leave long-term and even permanent effects that can forever change the course of their lives. But, is addiction a family disease? Does it also affect the family members of the addict in the same ways or at all? The resounding answer is “yes.”

Effects of Addiction on the Family

The effects of addiction on the family hardly ever go unnoticed. Each and every single person within the family unit is impacted. So, if you ever wondered “is addiction a family disease?”, some of the most helpful answers to that question reside in the lasting effects it leaves on the family unit as a whole, including:

  • Broken trust
  • Communication issues
  • Financial problems
  • Childhood trauma
  • Fear and anxiety
  • Shame and guilt
  • Lost relationships 
  • Being estranged from one another

Unfortunately, most all family members of someone who is an addict or alcoholic is going to develop their own mental and physical issues related to this disease. For example, it is extremely common for immediate family members of an addict/alcoholic to develop symptoms of anxiety in response to the fear and lack of control they have in their loved one’s life. Or, a family member may suffer physical health problems stemming from lack of exercise or healthy diet due to being exhausted by their loved one’s addiction. The mental and physical toll addiction can take on the family can easily alter their way of functioning, their moral fabric, and their trust in one another. Continuing to allow active addiction to create such disarray will only make the situation grow worse. Thankfully, there is help out there for both the addict/alcoholic and their families so that healing the entire family unit can become a possibility. 

Family Roles in Addiction

Is addiction a family disease? That is a question that we have already answered, but can be further solidified by discussing how family members can fall into toxic roles in response to the addict/alcoholic’s behaviors. 

  • The Addict — The addict is the individual within the family who is actively abusing drugs and/or alcohol. Their substance abuse not only impacts their own physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing, but also trickles down to the rest of the members of the family, causing them pain and distress, too. 
  • The Enabler — The person who engages in activity that makes it possible for the addict to continue using is known as the enabler. The enabler may participate in behavior that includes making excuses and covering up for the addict, as well as blaming others for the addict’s use. 
  • The Hero — There is typically one family member who falls into the role of being the “hero” of the family. This role is characterized by a family member who tries to consistently achieve in whatever it is that they are doing. The drive behind this behavior is fueled by wanting to make it appear and feel like everything within the family unit is stable (if not exemplary). 
  • The Mascot — Often compared to a class clown, the mascot of the family is the one family member who tries to heal the pain of what is occurring through laughter, charm, and wit. While it might appear that this individual is naturally funny and outrageous, they are often the ones feeling some of the deepest pain as a result of the addiction within their family. Their jovial attitude becomes a defense mechanism.
  • The Lost Child — Depending on the size of the family, there may be a child within the family unit who ends up being the “lost child.” The lost child refers to a child or young adults within the family who slips between the cracks because the focus of the family is being consumed by the addict, mascot, and hero. The lost child is highly likely to fall into the same patterns of substance abuse and potentially develop a substance use disorder as time goes on. 
  • The Scapegoat — There is often a great deal of chaos occurring within a family where addiction is rampant, however the blame can easily become placed on one person rather than spread out. This family member is known as the scapegoat. Family members might claim that the scapegoat is the reason why the addict uses or why the lost child has become socially withdrawn, etc. The scapegoat is also at risk for becoming an addict or alcoholic in the future because of the role they have fallen into within their family unit. 

Addiction Treatment in California

Living with the disease of addiction, whether you are the one abusing drugs and alcohol or not, is stressful, overwhelming, and highly emotional. At California Behavioral Health, we understand that treating the disease of addiction does not just mean treating the user, but also offering care and support to their families. 

If you are in need of help, do not hesitate to reach out to us right now. We will connect you with a kind, compassionate admissions counselor who can help you and your loved ones get the care you need. So, call us today. We can help.

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  • My name is Matthew and I was a resident here at CBH from 6/22/2020 through 7/23/2020.. I just Graduated the program in 32 days and I am writing this because I am truly Thankful to them All.. I would like to Give CBH 7 Stars but it will only like me give 5 .. CBH is a fantastic place to get your Body Mind and Sprit back into shape. ALL the Safe here are fantastic and attentive to what you are going through. All the Therapist here are Truly top notch and take the time to truly help you and get to know you , your needs and get down to that Nitty Gritty of what your blocking out of your life with what your doing or using. If you are looking for help do not hesitate to call them and ask for help it will be the Best start to your new You. So if you are looking for help Like I was and want to put in the work to get the Help .. DO IT… Remember ( YOU GET WHAT YOU PUT IN ).

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