Addiction – A Family Problem

Addiction Affects the Whole Family

Addiction affects the family as a whole and each individual in a unique way. When a person is addicted to Alcohol, Substance Abuse,or Gambling for example, they believe their addiction is their own business. However, the family is also affected by the addiction- emotionally, socially, and financially.  Parental addiction has a detrimental effect on behavioural, emotional and psychological states of children.

The family become part of a destructive pattern of recurring difficult situations. This requires all their energy to anticipate and cope with trouble as it occurs. The traditional values, rules and beliefs in the Family System,where the focus is on the well-being of children,parents and extended family, get distorted when one or both of the parents are addicted. The children may experience gaps in the continuity of care or witness or experience abuse or neglect. There may be poor parental monitoring of the child’s ongoing development in school and at home, causing behavioural problems, emotional difficulties and in some cases social isolation for the child.

Changes in Family Roles due to Addiction

Children are often forced to assume adult roles;-in the sense that they are more responsible for themselves and for the adults. Of course this is the opposite of the norm in the’ good enough’ family system where parents carry family responsibilities.

Roles are adopted; for example the ‘Hero’ usually  the oldest child, the ‘Scapegoat’ often the second child, the ‘Lost Child’ who is usually the middle child and the ‘Mascot’ often the youngest child.  These roles help the family survive.It’s important to recognise where a person fits in this family system.  When a person identifies the role they may have assumed as a child, they begin to understand the negative effects on their lives. This role or way of living or coping may have worked at a functional level in their family of origin, however this may not necessarily be working at a life enhancing or functional level in adult life. This can lead to Depression, Anxiety, Guilt or lack of Self-Esteem, and feelings of Futility.

The Role od Counselling and Psychotherapy

Understanding is the first important building block for the future. The person learns how to disconnect from ways of coping that are damaging or inhibiting their development. Working in psychotherapy and counselling, the person learns a new way of relating to themselves and others, which will help in the growth of self -esteem and self- worth.

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