The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) defines addiction as “a treatable, chronic medical disease,” explaining that “people with addiction use substances or engage in behaviors that become compulsive and often continue despite harmful consequences.”
Many addiction professionals regard the loss of control over substance use as an important aspect of the disease. While many people in active addiction are trying to maintain control over their substance use, their loved ones often attempt their own version of control.
In their effort to keep escalating addiction contained, family members may inadvertently enable or enhance continued substance misuse. Addiction is frequently described as a family disease because it typically forces families to make incremental, adaptive changes in response to the steady progression of the disease. Unfortunately, those “countermeasures” often exacerbate the cycle of addiction.
In an attempt to help their addicted family member, loved ones may try to minimize the negative consequences of substance misuse. But by mitigating the repercussions they may also enable the continuation of disease progression.
Examples of enabling behaviors include spouses taking on the addicted partner’s responsibilities or covering for them. This could also include parents ignoring the progressively dangerous behaviors of their children while providing monetary allowances. Friends and family may persuade themselves that the addicted person is “functioning” despite the dangerous substance use. This type of denial allows addicted people and their families to avoid confronting the addiction directly.
Families as a whole are deeply affected by the behavior of the addicted person and need support, counseling, and resources to heal. “Addiction is not simply about substance misuse, it is primarily about unhealthy relationships,” said Kyle Kone, the clinical lead at Recovery Ways. “It’s not about one person and it’s not about one substance, although both play an important role in the addiction.”
Often, substance misuse has been going on for a long time with devastating consequences for the relationships within the family. Loved ones usually do not know how to repair the damage caused by addiction. Instead, they try to manage the crisis and develop what is known as codependency.
Codependency is a type of addiction around a relationship. Codependents are controlled by the addicted person’s behavior. It’s important to note that codependency and enabling are two sides of the same coin. Enabling is a set of behaviors, while codependency is the motive that drives those behaviors.
Codependency and enabling can emerge from what seems like normal behavior. Being compassionate and wanting to trust someone that you love are quite normal intentions. But when people start going to extremes and engage in enabling behaviors that may even violate their ethical and/or moral values, they are promoting sickness and imbalance, both in themselves and in the addicted person.
Resolving this dynamic often requires professional support to include therapy and other interventions. Through this support, family members have the opportunity to realize they didn’t cause the addiction, they cannot control the addiction, and they cannot cure the addiction. However, they can play a crucial support role in the recovery of their loved one. Our family program allows patients and their family members to take an honest look at the disease of addiction and examine the effect it has had on each person individually, and on the family as a whole.
If you, a family member, or a friend are struggling with addiction and/or mental health, Recovery Ways wants to help. We are dually licensed to treat mental health disorders and addiction. Our admissions coordinators can recommend a plan of action, suggest an interventionist, or speak with your loved one. For more information, please call us at (888) 988-5217.