Addiction is a Family Disease

Addiction is a Family Disease

Addiction does not just affect those using drugs or alcohol but can cause upheaval and chaos in lives of their loved ones. Family and friends can experience depression, anxiety, anger and powerlessness as they face what appears to be an ongoing crisis of health versus illness. This can be an all-consuming issue in a support person’s life and actually can decrease their quality of life.

Family and friends may try to “fix” their loved one in order to stop continued drug or alcohol use, prevent increasingly bigger problems and to make their own lives easier. These “fixing” behaviors may include:

  • Forcing an addicted person into treatment when they are not ready
  • Allowing your boundaries to be violated by an addicted person in an attempt to keep them safe
  • Policing an addicted person’s actions in an attempt to enforce their sobriety

Family and friends can get stuck in a cycle of fixing … and then feeling resentful when this fixing doesn’t work or is not appreciated.


Practicing good self-care is as essential for a loved one’s recovery as it is for the addicted person.

Self-care can include talking to friends, seeing a therapist or attending a support group. Below are ways to practice good self-care, overcoming common barriers so you can move towards wellness.

Get help for yourself!

Though substance use disorder initially only affected your loved one, it has become a problem in your life now and must be addressed in order for you to best cope. Like anyone facing adversarial circumstances, you can grow from these intense experiences. However, the shame associated with addiction can act as a barrier to letting others assist in desperate times. This is a barrier to both the addicted person and the family.

Remember, it’s not your fault!

Your response may be one of anger or intense sadness as you ask yourself questions such as “What could I have done to prevent this?” and “Why don’t they love me more than the drug?” Family members may resist help or connection with others if they fear hearing that they caused this problem. As Al-Anon Family Groups (a support group for loved ones of those with addiction) counsels:

Remember that addiction is a disease and is not caused, controlled or cured by love or involvement from the family.

Connect with others.

You are not alone. Addiction is a common disease that affects people regardless of status, race or gender. Twelve-step support groups, such as Al-Anon Family Groups, are able to provide information and guidance for family and friends of those with addiction. Pine Rest Addiction Services also offers a Family Recovery Group, designed to connect family and friends of those struggling with addiction with others who are going through similar circumstances while learning more about the disease.


There is hope!

Fear of addiction can lead people to assume that they or their loved one cannot get better. However, those struggling with addiction and their families can recover from the effects of substance use disorders. Hard won sobriety can be maintained by prioritizing recovery activities (such as therapy, support groups and strong relationships with healthy, sober individuals) for both the addicted person and the family.

The rewards—which include a better understanding on chronic illness and a renewed sense of well-being, renewed connection and self-confidence—are worth the work.

Remember, addiction is a disease that cannot be cured by a family member’s love or attention.

Just as we regard cancer or diabetes, we must begin to see addiction as a medical disorder that affects thinking, behavior and, consequently, relationships and overall life health. With any other disease we seek help, connection and answers to gain understanding and to manage our emotions. The disease of addiction can be treated in the same way, allowing both the addicted person and his or her loved ones relief and hope.

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