Drug addiction is a very serious problem that affects more than just the drug users. It also affects their families, and family relationships often go sour in the face of substance abuse. The changes in users’ behaviors are what damage their relationships with the family most.
How drug addiction impacts family members
Drug users would often neglect family obligations. For instance, a father suffering from addiction won’t spend any time with their children anymore. Along with that, he may ditch work often. Eventually, this behavior may cause him to lose his job. Financial trouble would come next, and this would further strain his relationship with his wife and children. In turn, because of the negativity he experiences at home, he would have a bigger excuse to keep using drugs. With that, his addiction is fueled.
The effects on children are particularly harmful. If they see their father not being responsible at home anymore, they may be forced to take the role of a “surrogate spouse.” In other words, they would stand in for their father. They would take on the father’s responsibilities to help their mother out. Those responsibilities may even be too much for their age, but they do them anyway.
Many children may also feel guilty for their addicted parents’ misbehavior. Even if it’s not their fault, they tend to blame themselves and feel self-pity for what their parents are doing. With that, they grow up with low self-esteem, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Moreover, they are more prone to developing their own substance use disorders later in life.
Denial of the addiction is another common thing that family members do. Some even go to the extreme: They would enable their loved ones’ addictive behavior to continue. For example, giving them money to buy more drugs, bailing them out of jail, or paying for legal fees. In short, they shelter their loved ones from the consequences of their addictions. That does not help at all. It only encourages further drug abuse. If the addicted loved ones get into trouble again, the vicious cycle repeats.
Financial problems present another great issue for family members. Drug addiction is not cheap. It costs a fortune – not just for the drug users, but also for their families. More often than not, drug users easily run out of money, and they would rely on family members to fund their drug habits. Expenses on drugs alone may exceed $62,000 a year – that’s more than the income of the average American.
Another common issue is codependency. This is an unhealthy relationship dynamic that usually happens with couples. Here, the sober partner essentially covers for the addicted partner’s misdeeds. There are five behavior patterns that characterize codependency, and these are:
- Compliance to the addicted partner’s demands
- Attempting to control the addicted partner
- Avoidance of necessary steps, like getting professional help
- Denial of the sober partner’s own feelings about the addicted partner’s lifestyle
- Low self-esteem of the sober partner
Because of these dire effects on the family, drug addiction is not something that should be swept under the rug. Those with addiction should get help along with their family members.
What does Narcotics Anonymous do for family members?
One popular avenue for recovery from drug addiction is called Narcotics Anonymous (NA). It is one of those so-called 12-step groups that bring together people struggling with drug addiction. NA functions as a support group, where members regularly share experiences and help each other out to achieve sober lifestyles.
NA conducts regular meetings to help its members go through these 12 steps. Usually, members attend these meetings for at least 90 days. Some attend NA for a longer time if they need to.
NA is for the drug user, though. For family members, there is a separate support group called Nar-Anon, based on similar principles.
Are family members required to attend Nar-Anon?
No. Families of addicted individuals do not strictly have to go to Nar-Anon, but it would help a lot if they do.
Nar-Anon works in almost the same way as NA. Family members would tell each other what they are going through with their addicted loved ones, how it affects them, and what they can do to remedy the situation.
Also, Nar-Anon uses the same 12 steps as NA. Thus, family members go through almost the same program as their addicted loved ones.
How do you know if Nar-Anon is right for you?
Before deciding to join a Nar-Anon group, family members should answer a set of questions to determine if the group is appropriate for them. There are 20 questions formulated by Nar-Anon, and these are:
- Do you find yourself making excuses, lying or covering up for someone?
- Do you have a reason not to trust this person?
- Is it becoming difficult for you to believe his/her explanations?
- Do you lie awake worrying about this person?
- If it is your child, is he/she missing school often without your knowledge?
- If it is your spouse, is he/she missing work and leaving bills to pile up?
- Are your savings mysteriously disappearing?
- Are the unanswered questions causing hostility and undermining your relationship?
- Are you asking yourself, “What’s wrong?” and “Is it my fault?”
- Are normal family disagreements becoming hostile and violent?
- Are your suspicions turning you into a detective and are you afraid of what you may find?
- Are you canceling your social functions with vague excuses?
- Are you becoming increasingly reluctant to invite friends to your home?
- Is concern for this person causing you headaches, a knotty stomach and extreme anxiety?
- Do minute matters easily irritate this person? Does your whole life seem like a nightmare?
- Are you unable to discuss the situation with friends and relatives because of embarrassment? 17. Are you frustrated by ineffective attempts to control the situation?
- Do you overcompensate and try not to make waves?
- Do you keep trying to make things better and nothing helps?
- Are the lifestyle and friends of this person changing? Do you ever think they may be using drugs?
If you answered “yes” to at least four of these questions, then Nar-Anon may be the place for you.