Addiction and Family Estrangement
Addiction is a powerful force. It has the capacity to tear apart even the strongest foundations, like family. An estranged family can be a heartbreaking side effect of addiction. After all, family sets the tone for everything you do. It is a part of who you are.
Addiction can change a person. Your loved one is dealing with a mental battle that impacts everyone they come in contact with. Here we will discuss how addiction can lead to estranged family dynamics, how to reconnect with estranged family, and how to get the help your family needs.
Estrangement does not have to be the end of your family’s story. Give us a call today at 614-502-6247. We can help you help your family heal from the woes of addiction.
The woes of addiction can create distance between you and your loved ones. The addict may have acted out in ways that the family cannot cope with. Or on the flip side, the addict may encourage the estrangement if they felt their family was not supporting them in the way they needed.
Regardless of the reasoning, strong family bonds are far too important to be torn apart by addiction. Read on to find out more about estrangement and addiction.
What Addiction is Doing to You
Addiction is a complex disease and understanding how it impacts the addict is important to understand how it can lead to issues like estrangement. If your loved one is faced with an addiction, you may not realize that the problem goes much deeper than just a lack of willpower. Drugs and alcohol have dramatic effects on the brain. When these substances are misused often enough, they can completely rewire how the user looks, feels and behaves.
So, how does addiction happen? Drug use causes a variety of chemical changes in a person’s brain. According to DrugAbuse.gov, this is how addiction works:
Our brains are wired to increase the odds that we will repeat pleasurable activities. The neurotransmitter dopamine is central to this. Drugs produce much larger surges of dopamine, powerfully reinforcing the connection between consumption of the drug, the resulting pleasure, and all the external cues linked to the experience. Large surges of dopamine “teach” the brain to seek drugs at the expense of other, healthier goals and activities.
Thus, drug addiction can quickly gain a powerful hold on a person’s life. As an addict, you get caught in a vicious cycle in attempts to recreate the pleasure previously achieved through drug use. Addiction can also play a part in issues like depression and increased anxiety. So not only is the substance itself causing physical harm and mental chaos, but it is also driving a wedge between you and your loved ones. The emotional rollercoaster addicts deal with is why a strong support system and consistent treatment are so vital. Quitting is not as simple as just stopping the drug and if you re the family of an addict this assumption is dangerous.
A family is often thought to consist of people you can go to for unconditional love and support. Estranged family members face a much different reality. What is estrangement? The National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines estrangement as “an ongoing process in which one or both parties are actively communicating to adjust and renegotiate intimacy boundaries.”
The article also makes a great point about estrangement and the ways it often stems from judgment. This may appear as a parent judging the choices their child makes. Or perhaps an adult child comes to realize the way they were parented was not the most positive. Regardless, family plays such a pivotal part in an individual’s identity that the decision to cut those ties is difficult.
Unfortunately, estrangement is also a phenomenon that hurts everyone in the family. Parents may feel isolated from their estranged children. Estranged family dynamics may cause strains within the family’s community and social networks. Estranged families may also experience “cycles of reunification” where the estranged members attempt to reconnect but fail because the behavior has not changed. Imagine how painful it has to be to see someone you love but know that their actions are hurting the family. This dynamic is a heavy burden to bear and is definitely magnified when the “behavioral issue” is addiction.
Far too often, people forget that despite the familial ties, everyone in the household has their own unique perspective. That is why determining who is “right” or “wrong” in the situation can be unproductive and detrimental. It is also why any event, big or small, can cause estrangement if someone feels your action influenced the family in a negative way. And with a disease like addiction causing estrangement, all these problems are magnified because so many people misunderstand the disease to begin with.
The Link Between Addiction and Estrangement
Now that you have an idea of what estrangement is, let’s take a look at the link between addiction and estrangement. Individuals that battle with substance abuse often become isolated from friends and family. This happens because addicts tend to want to associate with people who are willing to enable them. Perhaps they are even trying to conceal the extent of their problem out of shame.
This distance grows because addiction brings up a lot of emotions for the family of addicts. Estrangement due to addiction can bring feelings of embarrassment, shame, and guilt to the whole family. As the NIH notes,
Some family members even may feel the need for legal protection from the person abusing substances. Moreover, the effects on families may continue for generations. Intergenerational effects of substance abuse can have a negative impact on role modeling, trust, and concepts of normative behavior, which can damage the relationships between generations. For example, a child with a parent who abuses substances may grow up to be an overprotective and controlling parent who does not allow his or her children sufficient autonomy.
Estrangement has the capacity to dissolve family relationships. It is a very painful process to overcome, especially if the addict has yet to actively seek treatment. Fortunately, neither estrangement nor addiction have to be permanent. Recovery is possible, and so is restoring the bond you once enjoyed with your estranged family.
How to Reconnect With Estranged Family
The next step to tackle is determining how to reconnect with an estranged family member. It is great that you have taken the step to mend this relationship, but it is understandable if you start to feel overwhelmed. It is okay to seek assistance outside of the home.
These are some excellent tips to consider as you start to look into making a change:
- You should consider the help of a mediator: an impartial third party can help facilitate a healthy discussion in a comfortable setting.
- Prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for rejection:
confrontations are usually unpredictable, so it’s important to remember that not every individual involved will be ready to make up just because you are.
- Make sure to work through your own issues: before expecting another person to make amends, think about where you need to heal from the events that occurred in your family.
- Do not be afraid to ask for help: look for a local support group or seek counsel from a professional or friend group that you trust.
- Avoid showing up unannounced: because surprises and unwanted presence can be stressful for everyone involved, consider sending your loved one a heads up first.
Ultimately, mutual respect and trust will be necessary to restore your family. The behaviors addiction creates can cause a lot of pain and it is okay to acknowledge that. When you learn how to kindly and openly communicate, you can then release any resentment you may feel towards the addict. This in turn creates a space for that person to do the same. You may even come out of the estrangement with newly developed communication skills that change the family for the better.
On this journey, forgiveness is key. Find professional help for your negative behaviors while you also work to forgive yourself and your loved one. You cannot control or change anyone’s behavior but your own, which is why professional guidance is key.
Light at the End of the Tunnel
If your family is facing estrangement due to addiction, know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Your family is not forever bound to the destruction addiction has caused. As sad as estrangement is, ensuring that the addict gets the help they need remains the top priority. If this relationship was already toxic then it is possible that the distance is necessary as they work to get healthy. On the other hand, if this person has yet to seek help and is distancing themselves to be around other addicts than they need immediate treatment.
Addicts need to surround themselves with people that encourage them to get and stay clean. You cannot micromanage their lives, but you can be a firm pillar of support as they embark on this journey. It is much better to face a period of tension than a lifetime of pain. To show love and support is not always easy, especially with the emotions addiction can stir up in everyone involved. Fortunately, it is not a situation you or your family has to deal with alone. Whether the estrangement was forced or not, you can make a change today. That change must coincide with getting your loved one into treatment, if they are not already. Even then the road may be bumpy for you and your loved one, but it will start to reverse the behaviors that caused the tension in the first place.
If you are ready to restore your family, learn how to set healthy boundaries, or get your loved one into treatment—we can help! Give us a call now at the number below. The fallout from addiction is something best solved with focused and immediate action, and our experts will provide the advice and resources you need to succeed.
By Meccah Muhammad
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