Making Peace: Families Affected by Addiction
Addiction is a progressive disease that causes severe emotional and behavioral issues. Therefore, when someone is suffering from an addiction, their loved ones may also be subjected to the residual effects of addiction. As an individual begins recovery from their addiction, they will begin to recognize the harm they have done to themselves, their family members, and even their friends. As a result, they may begin to feel guilt and remorse about how their addiction caused harm to their loved ones. It’s safe to say that families are affected by addiction in many devastating ways.
Fortunately, it is possible to make amends for the harm you caused your family. Making peace with your family about the effects your addiction had on them may seem difficult but it can be done. Addiction does not only affect the individual, therefore, recovery must also happen for the whole family.
How Does Addiction Affect Family Members?
In order to make peace with the effects of addiction on your family, you must first understand how addiction can affect those around you. Addiction has the power to alter the way a family functions, changes the roles your family members have to play and changes how you interact with your family members.
Common issues caused by addiction that can have a direct impact on family dynamics:
- Side effects of the substance
- Strained relationships
- Financial hardships
- Exposure to other drugs
- Reckless behavior in front of family members/ in the home
- Stealing money from family and friends to support the habit
- Causing parental grief
During active addiction, it is common for an individual’s behavior to change drastically. This means the individual’s family will begin to notice something is off, or wrong, with their loved one. Just the change in behavior alone is enough to cause severe strain on your relationship with your family. For example, this can cause a tumultuous relationship to develop due to your family member’s confusion and worry about why you are behaving so differently.
While the effects that addiction can have on a family may be obvious to your family members, you may not notice it until you get sober. However, once you begin sobriety you have the opportunity to start to make amends to the people you have harmed. Oftentimes, therapists in treatment will offer support and advice on how to repair broken relationships with family members or friends who were affected by your addiction.
How Many Families are Affected by Addiction?
Addiction is, unfortunately, extremely common in the United States. Many families have dealt with addiction, hoping and praying that their loved one would seek help. Additionally, loving an addict can feel especially lonely due to the emotional and behavioral effects of addiction. While many families who are dealing with an addicted loved one may feel as if they are alone, statistics show they are not.
- According to a study performed by The American Society of Addiction Medicine, nearly 21.5 million Americans aged 12 or older have a substance use disorder.
- Out of the 21.5 million Americans with a substance use disorder, 1.9 million were addicted to prescription pain pills.
- 586,000 of those individuals were addicted to heroin.
- Approximately 23% of those people who were addicted to heroin developed an addiction to opioids (morphine, fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and codeine).
- According to a study done in 2013, approximately 17.3 million Americans had a problem with alcohol.
Tips for Recovering Addicts to Heal Families Affected By Addiction
One of the best times to begin mending relationships with family members who were affected by your addiction is during treatment. At this point, your loved ones have seen your commitment to getting better and know that you are receiving professional treatment. Seeing your commitment to bettering your life will give your family members new hope, allowing for room to repair the relationship. However, there are certain “do’s and don’ts” in regards to making amends to your family. Due to this, the following will be an outline of tips on how to properly rebuild the relationships with your loved ones that were affected by your addiction.
The first step in rebuilding a broken relationship is to reach out to the person you harmed. If you are unsure or nervous about how they may react to a phone call from you, sending a letter or an email may be a good first step. Most importantly, if you are in treatment you should rehearse what you plan to say in front of a therapist or a trusted mentor. Oftentimes, many of us attempt to include information that may be more harmful than productive – unintentionally causing more strain on the relationship. Furthermore, your letter or email should contain information about your treatment, your plans to get your life back on track, and that you would like to mend the relationship.
Be Honest and Direct
Your family members and close friends most likely grew accustomed to you lying or being in denial about your addiction and it’s severity. Therefore, your communication with them from here on out should be direct, clear, and honest. This allows them to see that you have taken steps to end the negative behavior that was a direct result of your addiction. You should always say something to the effect of, “I know I have hurt you in the past and I deeply regret doing so. Is there anything I can do to mend this relationship going forward?”.
Don’t Beat Yourself Up Over the Past
Once you have made an effort to apologize for past harms that you have caused, there is no reason to allow them to continue to cause you guilt. After all, you don’t have the power to change the past. All you can do is continue to move forward and make progress.
Continue Attending Meetings/Therapy
In order for your family to truly believe that you are making progress, they must see you “walking the walk”. In most cases, this will not be their first time seeing you get sober. However, if they see you continue making changes for the better and attending recovery meetings or therapy sessions, they will see that you are serious about your recovery. Additionally, offering to begin family therapy with the family member that you are making amends to may prove to be extremely beneficial. Oftentimes, families need an outside person to help facilitate conversations and teach one another how to properly communicate.
Anytime someone experiences significant harm, recovering from that harm may take some time. This holds true when it comes to repairing a relationship with a family member who was affected by your addiction. Oftentimes, your family member may want to see that you have stayed sober for “x” amount of time before becoming emotionally invested again. While this can feel frustrating, do not let it defeat your hope for a better relationship. If you remain open, honest, and direct with your loved one, the trust will begin to build and strengthen over time.
Medically Reviewed: March 28, 2020
All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.