Addiction is a Family Illness
First of all, I am of the firm belief that there is a family link which is likely to be genetic. Although the precise gene has not been identified. Too often I hear of people who have had alcoholic or addicted parents and who can point to addiction throughout the generations and this cannot be purely coincidental. Of course, it could be argued that those who have been in families who have experienced the negative effects of addiction are more likely to have had bad experiences and this is why they turn to substances as a form of escapism themselves.
There could be some truth in this – but also many people who have had a happy childhood become addicted – alongside at least some of their siblings. So if there is not something in their genes, there must be something in their personality characteristics.
Effects all the Family
However, another way in which alcoholism and addiction are family illnesses is that the alcoholic or addict has a massive effect on the whole family, making them all ill. Here are some examples from people and families I have recently met. In this case, let us say that our addict is a mother:
Her husband and the father of her children has witnessed her heavy drinking and watched her life unravel in terms of her being emotionally no longer present for her family, unable to manage her life, being an embarrassment at social occasions, and gradually losing her ability to function at all and her will to live. He has had to pick up the pieces and feels stressed at having to run the home. He also feel isolated and lonely as he no longer has the support and company of the woman he married.
Family Illness – Denial
Her son is angry. He feels that he can no longer trust his mother as she has lied time and again about her drinking. She will deny she has had a drink when she has. Will deny it even when he can see the neck of a bottle at the top of her handbag. She tells him repeatedly that this is the last time she will get drunk. Only to return to the same old behaviour in the next few days.
Her daughter is worried and upset. She has her own child now and would appreciate the support of her mother as she learns about motherhood herself. She would like to spend time with her mum now she is at home looking after her toddler. Had envisaged them going out shopping and for a coffee together. She had hoped her mum might babysit on occasions and give her a bit of free time. The reality is very different. She could not trust her mother with the child as she would get drunk and would not even change his nappy. She might even go to sleep and not look after him at all.
Her mother is now of an age at which she should not have to worry about her daughter. She should be able to relax in her latter years and enjoy the company of her extended family. She is worried sick, wonders why her daughter has turned to drink and does not know what to do or where to turn. Feels too helpless.
Her sister loves her and wants to help but this is affecting her own family. Her husband does not understand why his sister-in-law is taking up so much time and energy and has become the focus of the entire family’s attention and concern. Their marriage is under strain. The sister is going to the doctor’s and thinks she may need anti-depressants.
Yes, addiction is a family illness. That is the reality.
The Haynes Clinic is an alcohol and drug rehab clinic which offers detox and counselling for people with addictions. Call 01462 851414 for free and confidential advice.