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The Family Feels the Impact of Addiction, Too

11/29/17 by Nway Linn

​Have you heard the saying that addiction is a “family disease”? Some may think that means addiction is genetic, something that runs in the family and is only passed along from generation to generation. And some may even think the chronic disease only affects the addicted. However, addiction is an illness that spreads to all family members, whether they are sober or not. Whether it is health, finances or relationships, the impact of addiction is felt and shared throughout the family.

If I were to describe what addiction is, it would be similar to the 1958 film called “The Blob.” For those who are not familiar with “The Blob,” it starts as a small, jelly-like blob that is alive and sticks and holds on to anything it touches. Over time, it grows and grows and continues to consume everything and everyone in its path. Sometimes, loved ones get stuck in the blob, and those trying to help the person who is stuck, also get pulled in to the stickiness and can’t find their way out.

Losing a sense of self is a symptom of addiction

It is easy to lose sight of ourselves when our loved one is struggling – to put aside our needs, feelings, and lives to be able to give to someone else in the hopes that things will get better. In my experience as a professional in the field of chemical dependency, one often-overlooked symptom of the disease of addiction is losing a sense of self. As much as the person struggling with addiction begins to lose who they are – their hobbies, relationships, hopes and dreams – those closest to the person also experience the same symptom of losing their identity or purpose.

There are times when I am contacted by concerned loved ones of an individual who is in active addiction. I can hear the stress, the fears and the heavy weight of responsibility in their voices. However, I don’t always get the opportunity to hear how addiction has impacted other members of the family, including the person contacting me. During these conversations, the focus is on the person struggling with chemical use along with the necessary solutions and next actions. These one-on-one discussions with that one family member often leave me wondering how the family is doing, how have they been managing themselves and if anyone is afraid of losing themselves along with their loved one.

Take care of yourself before your take care of others

You know when flight attendants review safety procedures on an airplane and they instruct you to put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others? If you run out of oxygen, you can’t help anyone else with their mask. Similarly, when you don’t take care of yourself, how will you take care of your loved one who is experiencing active addiction? It is important to remember that your physical and mental health and well-being matter, too.

I would like this to be a reminder for family members to slow down and take the time to reconnect with yourself. How are you doing? How are you feeling? What are the things that you need today?

And finally, I want to leave you with this fitting quote by Sidney Lovett: “Every now and again take a good look at something not made with hands – a mountain, a star, the turn of a stream. There will come to you wisdom, and patience and solace and above all, the assurance that you are not alone in the world.”

Click here to get comprehensive support for yourself and your loved one experiencing substance use concerns.

Nway Linn is a Senior Clinical Supervisor and is the Program Director for the Wilder Foundation’s Recovery Services.