Family Behaviour

The Family Denies the Addiction

Like the addict, the rest of the family also denies the addiction. They try to keep up appearances to the outside, acting like nothing is wrong and everything is fine, avoiding that it is too painful for them. While some only hide it from the outside, others deny it completely, even to themselves.

This behaviour prevents recognising the consequences of addictive behaviour that affect the whole family, such as when the addict loses their job and blames it on others or bad luck.

The Family does not Express Intense Emotions

Family members are prevented from expressing strong emotions and, over time, they even learn not to feel them. The most intense emotions, especially anger, are seen as dangerous. The members of these families try to maintain a kind of emotional silence so that nothing disturbs the addict, because they fear his/her reactions, especially the violent reactions that addicts sometimes show. Addiction is not discussed either, as it is a too highly charged emotional topic. It is as if the motto has been imposed: “If you say nothing maybe nothing will happen.”

The problem is that emotions cannot be selectively suppressed. Either you feel all there is to feel or you stop feeling altogether. Thus, when trying to suppress the intense emotions, all the others end up being suppressed. This makes it difficult to know what you are feeling and to identify your emotions. For this reason, it is not uncommon for anger to feel like anxiety or stress and for depression to feel like irritability. But as emotions are needed to guide us, make decisions and relate to others, when you have trouble knowing what you feel, it can create all kinds of problems including in relationships with people beyond the family.

The Family Tries to Control the Addict

Family members try to do everything they can to get the addict to give up their addiction, but these attempts fail over and over again. They also try to control each other. There will be those who think that the addict should be thrown out of the house and cut their relationships with him or her, and those who take the addict’s side; seeking excuses and covering up the consequences of the addict’s behaviour.

The Family Reverses the Roles

Attempts at control, and the prohibition of feeling and speaking about certain topics, are invasions of privacy that violate psychological boundaries. The boundaries between generations are also broken. The normal thing, in a healthy family, is that parents do not share certain information with their children and do not look to them for emotional support or as counsellors. But the high level of stress in the family of the addict makes children perceive the discomfort of their parents and feel obliged to take care of them— to save their family. They take responsibility for something which a child should not be responsible for, as they need their parents to take care of them and not the other way around.

The older son or daughter often ends up assuming the role of an alternate parent, taking care of their siblings and their own parents. All of this means that children must deny their age-specific needs to become adults too early.

The Family and Confidence and Privacy Problems

With the high level of stress that this entails and suppressed emotions, family members gradually stop responding to the emotional needs of others. They do not do what they said they would do, they are not there to support each other, they do not respond in an empathetic and understanding way. The trust and intimacy that may have existed between them in the past cracks.

For this reason, it is not uncommon for children to become adults who perceive relationships as stressful and destructive, with problems experiencing intimacy with other people.

The Family has Behaviours that Promote Addiction

In order to help their family move forward, those close to the addict begin to perform the tasks and obligations that the addict previously performed. If the addict loses their job, the loss of income can make them unable to pay the bills. If you are lucky, you may find a way to earn more money, pay the bills, and support your family, but by doing so you are also preventing the addict from suffering the negative consequences of their behaviour.

The addict can continue with the addiction without really serious consequences, because their partner “takes care of cleaning the dishes” and providing the family with what they need. Thus, the addict’s family falls into a trap that perpetuates the addiction.

The Family and Codependence in Adults

The children of addicts do not learn to identifytheir emotions and emotional needs well, although as adults they are very sensitive to the emotional climate around them. They understand love as something that consists of satisfying the needs of dependency, instead of seeing it as something based on a true interest in the welfare of the other person. This makes them feel better in relationships where their partner is not completely independent, such as with addicts, so it is not uncommon for them to also end up having an addict as a partner.

To overcome these problems and to be able to maintain healthy and normal relationships in adulthood, the family often needs help.