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Do Families Have Power?

In the previous article, “The Power of Family” I left you with a question . . . “Do families have power?”  This article examines that question.

If we begin with the evidence-based premises that:

  1. Alcoholics/addicts are powerless over the disease of addiction, and
  2. Addiction is a family disease which makes the family, in its own way, ill

then doesn’t it follow that affected families are powerless over addiction as well?  This is no more a pleasant thought than accepting the alcoholic/addict’s powerlessness, however, pleasant or not reality slowly and eventually sets in as you experience this powerlessness, this loss of control over and over firsthand.  The frustration of trying to help your addicted loved one with glimmers of hope that things are “getting better” is inevitably followed by another disappointing and nasty consequence.  Families are intimately familiar with the sad list of “consequences” . .  . drinking/drugging again in spite of promises not to do so or to “cut back”, failure to keep commitments, not doing well at work or school, relationship difficulties, bad attitudes, anger, accidents (auto and personal), financial problems, legal problems (including arrest) and on and on the destruction goes.   When the pain of it all (a.k.a reality) finally sinks in families have hit their bottom.  They reach a crossroad and must make a choice . . .  let the disease take its course . .  . or . . . get help.  Notice that the option that the family continues to deal with this on their own has not been offered.  That option is the definition of insanity . . . to keep doing the same thing (acting alone) over and over and expecting different results.  No, no . . .  to have any power whatsoever, families must move past that hurdle. 
          For families to exercise any clout over addictive disease, they must do 3 things:

  1. Admit there is a problem
  2. Identify the problem as addiction
  3. Seek appropriate outside help

Admitting there is a problem:  Surprisingly enough, families suffer from the same denial addicts do.  The co-dependent denial takes on different shapes and forms from the addict’s denial, but it is denial just the same and the end result is always undesirable.  Therein lies the barrier to step one.  Until families acknowledge they even have a problem they can not make any positive progress towards addressing it.  For the addicted family the abnormal has become normal.  Take for example, the first arrest, let’s say it’s a DUI.  The family is shocked, worried, I dare say terrified.  But, after 2 or 3 or 4 of them the shock value wears off and getting arrested is not so bizarre.  The problem now isn’t the reason behind getting the DUI which has now become more expected; the problem is how do we minimize the damage from the DUI.  The abnormal has become normal and dealing with the fallout from the abnormal becomes the norm.

Identifying the problem as addiction:  Addiction loves to masquerade as anything other than addiction.  It will dress itself up as a mental health illness such as depression, bi-polar, anxiety, ADHD, schizophrenia and others.  It will point the finger at the job, the spouse, the kids, the finances and other stressors as the cause for the drinking/drugging.  People will blame symptoms or consequences as the issue thereby misidentifying the real culprit, addiction itself.  By doing so, families will focus on “fixing” these other things thinking they are making headway.  In reality, they are only putting out a brushfire temporarily, never reaching the core source.  Families will struggle for years, even decades treating symptoms and consequences while the disease advances.  Until they resolutely and unequivocally identify addiction they will never make any significant or lasting progress.

Seek appropriate outside help:  Out of fear and ignorance many well-intentioned families miss the mark on this step.  If families get to this step, and that is a BIG if because they have been so conditioned to “doing it on their own” and believe they still can, they will usually wind up seeking inappropriate outside help because they have stumbled on step 2 by misidentifying addiction as something else.  Commonly, people will engage therapy or counseling believing they suffer from depression, anxiety, stress or marital discord that can be helped through therapeutic means.  Families and their addicted loved ones spend bodacious amounts of time and money utilizing outside resources that prove ineffective because they are using the wrong tool for what ails them.  When people acknowledge the problem for what it truly is, only then will they be at the threshold of step three.  Willingness to get appropriate outside help brings them to a turning point, a point where they stand a chance of doing battle with a disease that wants to kill their loved one and make everyone of them suffer until it does.
Back to our original question:  Do families have power?  Yes, families DO!  Knowledge is power.  Recognizing there is a problem, identifying clearly what it is and knowing where and how to get appropriate outside help gives families strength.  Coupled with the key ingredient, willingness, they now have a chance at health and wellness.  Families need the same willingness required of their addicted loved one in order to begin recovery . . . the willingness to acknowledge the real issue and to seek outside help.  As with any disease, there are no guarantees, but this is the place to start.


(Second in a series of articles on The Family)