Loss of Daily Structure
Family members have difficulty in following a daily routine. In any normal family, the children will be certain that breakfast will be ready on time. Mother would have packed lunch. Uniforms would have been ironed. In a chemical dependent’s home, there is no structure or routine. If the son had taken drugs the previous day and created problems, the mother is unable to carry on her responsibilities the next day. She is not able to perform even basic duties like preparing food on time, sending the children to school or going for work on time.
Neglect of Personal Care
Family members slowly start losing interest in looking good and neglect their well–being. They do not attend to any of their physical ailments.
One of our patient’s wife shared with the counselor during treatment that in the recent years she started having excessive bleeding, but never bothered to consult a doctor.’ Later on the problem became very acute and when she went to the doctor, it was too late and her uterus had to be removed.
The family members feel tired all the time (even when they have not done much work). In addition, they also experience physical problems like ulcer, blood pressure, migraine headache, pain in the neck / back, inability to sleep, and lack of appetite.
Getting Involved in Unproductive Activities
The family members know from experience that some of their responses are unproductive and do not help in controlling the addict. In spite of knowing this, they continue to get involved in these activities. For example, calling his office and checking whether he has come for work; checking his belongings for the presence of drugs.
She is convinced that shouting at him when he is under the influence of drugs does not help and that it only aggravates the situation. In spite of this understanding, she is unable to keep quiet and as soon as he enters home in the night, she starts shouting at him.
The ‘Whatever I do is right’ attitude
She is convinced that nobody will understand her problems and maintains that whatever she is doing is the right thing. She neither discusses her problems nor is prepared to listen to others.
For instance, she believes that separating her son from his drug–taking friends will solve the issue and decides to go to her parents’ village. When others point out that this will affect the education of her other children, she is not willing to listen and adamantly proceeds with her decision. Since she is not open to suggestions, relationships get strained and she becomes isolated.
She would beat her 8–year–old child for some silly reason. If her mother–in–law intervened, she would say ‘If I don’t beat him, he will also become irresponsible like his father.’
The family members start blaming each other and hold the chemical dependent responsible for everything that happens at home.
The mother will not carry out her responsibilities, but would blame the addict for her inability. For instance,
- for her inability to cook properly, the addict is blamed
- if siblings get low marks, the addict is blamed
- if she is not able to keep the house clean, the addict is blamed
As days go by, the responsibilities increase. When there are several responsibilities to complete, prioritizing becomes essential. The family member is unable to plan and prioritize her activities. All her efforts are focused on facing one crisis after another.
For example, in the case of an alcoholic, till the schools reopen after holidays, the wife will not plan how to get money to pay special fees for her children. She knows very well that her husband will not take responsibilities. In spite of this, she will not plan ahead.
In the case of a drug addict, the mother would send one of her sons to look for the addicted son instead of sending him for tuition.
What the Family Should Realize
- Addiction has affected me physically and psychologically.
- Some of my behavior patterns were destructive and inappropriate.
- In recovery, it is important that I change my behavior and carry out my responsibilities properly.
If addiction has existed in the family over a long time, it is most likely that all the members of the family will be in need of help in restoring themselves to a state of health and happiness.
During recovery, the family should be made to feel the need to detach themselves from the problem which has for so long been the sole focus of their lives. In due course, it will help both the dependent and the family if they start facing the problem by doing the following.
- Stop telling themselves that ‘if only he decides, he can always give up drugs’. They have to accept that it is a serious problem that requires professional help.
- Start talking calmly and factually to the chemical dependent about his drug use and subsequent behavior when he is drug free. The more open they are, the more uncomfortable they will make him feel about his use of drugs. He should be made to understand that his addiction is causing problems and that he can recover by taking help.
- Stop protecting him by covering up the consequences of his drug use (giving reasons for the addict’s absence from college, or repaying debts incurred by the addict). He will become aware of the enormity of the problem only when he faces the crisis caused by his drug use.
- Not feel or give the impression that the addict is doing them a favor by giving up drugs. If they do so, the addict will become manipulative and this will hinder his recovery. For years, families might have patiently put up with the addict’s behavior just to have some peace at home. By continuing to yield to his irrational demands and difficult behavior, they will only complicate recovery.
- Start communicating honestly and openly to other members in the family about their concerns.
- Start accepting that they are not alone; they have choices and they need the support of self–help groups to cope with the problem. Self–help groups will help them find ways of changing and building up their self–esteem.
- Start looking after their own needs and the needs of other children. They should realize that they have to start doing the duties which they have neglected so far.
- Identify positive methods of diversion like spending time with other children, such as pursuing hobbies, etc. These positive experiences will give them the energy to face problems.
- Plan one day at a time and start executing their plans.