The family’s reactions to the chemical dependent
The family of the chemical dependent usually denies the existence of the problem in order to avoid humiliation and embarrassment. What is obvious to others is flatly denied by those who live on intimate terms with the dependent. The family becomes quite adept at shielding the dependent, making excuses for his behavior, helping him out of tight spots, covering up for him with his employers and others. The minimizing and rationalizing of family members is often deeply ingrained and truly believed – in much the same way as the minimizing and rationalizing of the addicted person. As a result, family members protect the person, deny that the relationship is troubled and deny the addiction of the person to whom they are attached.
The preoccupation of family members is similar to the addict’s obsession for drugs. Their entire thinking revolves around the dependent and they forget to take care of their needs. Their lives are modified to suit the needs of the chemical dependent. Acute stresses drive the wife or parent to some behavior or activity which she compulsively perform.
For example, she may be tracking the movements of the dependent all through the day, even though she might be aware that by doing this, she can not control his drug use. Her compulsive preoccupation drives her to waste her energy in unproductive ways, and the result is that she fails to perform her duties like cooking or looking after the children. She finally ends up in a self–destructive trap, controlled and manipulated.
Making changes in oneself
Most family members believe that the addict is taking drugs because of certain problems. As a result, the family takes responsibilities to deal with those problems. They try to establish a pleasant atmosphere at home hoping that it will help the addict to stay away from drugs. The family may go out of their way to please the addict and maintain a warm and caring attitude towards him even when the situation is difficult. The mother may say:– ”You have been repeatedly saying that we did not pay attention to you. Now I have given up my job. Father has stopped spending time at the club. Now that we have taken these steps, we expect you to stop taking drugs.“
She believes that her son’s problem is just temporary and that once they have made certain changes in themselves, he will stop using drugs.
Bargaining also comes into play as the parents/wife try to cope with this crisis that has invaded their home.
‘I will get you the latest computer, so that you can spend your evenings browsing the Internet. You will not feel bored.’
‘The moment you give up drugs, I will set up a business for you.’
The goal of bargaining is to offer the chemical dependent something in return for the desired behavior. But such bargaining does not work at all. Instead, it leads to frustration and depression.
Unfortunately, the family members start blaming each other. Very often the chemical dependent who is trying to take the focus off himself, uses the situation to his advantage and sets one family member off against another. For example, he may tell his mother that he is using drugs because he is unhappy in his marriage. He may say that his wife nags him continuously and he can’t stand it. To his wife, the same person complains bitterly about his domineering mother who never made any effort to understand him as a child and sent him away to a boarding school. This results in more pain and tension in the family because the two women start blaming each other for his addiction. In so doing, the family is kept from coming together and addressing the most important issue of how to help the chemical dependent recover from the disease.
The family attempts to control his drug taking in the hope of getting him out of this problem. The wife/mother may:
- hide, empty the drug packets or break the bottles.
- ask the addict to avoid his friends.
- extract promises from him.
- cry, plead, threaten and shout at him to stop his use of drugs.
Disorganization of the family
The family gives up all attempts to make him stop using drugs because the wife / mother realizes that none of these methods help. When she takes stock of the situation at home, she finds everything in disarray. She has no control over the addict; other children’s lives have also been affected; she is unable to exercise control even over her own emotions.
Permitting the crisis
At some point in time the family stops taking any responsibility for the consequences of the addict’s behavior. The wife/ mother may refuse to bring him home from the bar, where he lies drunk; refuse to clear his debts; refuse to give excuses to his boss for his absence from work; refuse to take him to the 24–hour clinic whenever he develops withdrawal symptoms.
When the addict is left to face these crisis all by himself, he feels helpless and the family members make use of these situations to intervene and motivate the individual to seek help.