Why is Addiction Considered a “Family Disease”? 

While those suffering from addiction are experiencing their own type of hell, the loved ones surrounding them suffer immensely, too. It goes without saying that living with an addict is incredibly difficult. 

When an addict begins to hurt their family, disrespect their siblings and parents, lash out, and challenge boundaries, the other members of the household also change their behaviors. Some may try and help the addict and protect them from getting into trouble, thus becoming the ‘scapegoat’. Others may take on the role of “caretaker” and attempt to compensate for the lack of care given by parents because the parents may be too busy trying to protect the addict. These are only a few examples of the dysfunctional roles that family members can take on when an addict is among them.

 In a recent study done at Texas Tech University, the saying, “addiction is a family disease” has taken on new meaning. Not only is the addict’s brain affected by the addiction, the family members’ brains actually change as well. What the study found is that members of the addict’s family have become sick as a result of the addict’s behavior. Just like when the prefrontal cortex of an addict shuts down when they are faced with temptation or are triggered to use, the family members’ prefrontal cortex  will malfunction when they are attempting to help the addict. Family members actually “crave” rescuing and care-taking of their addicted family member just like the addict craves their substance of choice. 

The conclusion of the study, which took place at Texas Tech, states the following: 

“The present study provides preliminary evidence that family members’ symptomatic behaviors associated with a loved one with a Substance Use Disorder  (such as fear-based behaviors), as hypothesized, may be related to altered brain functioning. Given these findings, problematic symptoms and behaviors may likely not decrease simply because the loved one struggling with a Substance Use Disorder finds abstinence or engages in a process of recovery. Should altered pathways be present in the brains of affected family members as has been found in individuals struggling with Substance Use Disorders, it becomes of great importance to help family members recognize their own personal need for support, ther- apeutic treatment, and/or recovery. Part of the recovery process should include family-based therapeutic support, and it is therefore important to make sure that the appropriate systemic and relationship training is available to helping professionals.” 

This study proves the necessity of the entire family getting treatment, not just the addict. Family members who turn to support groups such as Al-Anon or partake in family therapy have found great success in changing their behavior and learning “the three C’s”: You didn’t cause it, you can’t cure it, and you can’t control it.” If the addict is the only one getting treatment, and then goes back in to an environment where the rest of the family is still unwell, the addict’s likelihood for success goes down. The disease of addiction is viciously contagious, and it is important for everyone who is touched by it to seek help. 

If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction, drug addiction, Mental Health problems, The Redpoint Center is here to help. The Redpoint Center treats both adults and youth struggling with addiction and alcohol. To learn more about our Longmont Drug Rehab, call 888-509-3153.

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