How Addiction Puts Families in Crisis

addiction familyBy guest blogger Mel Dyson

Brief Bio: It’s been a long journey for Mel Dyson. As a youngster, she witnessed her own father battle with alcoholism, before herself becoming a drug addict in her early twenties, after an accident left her dependent on painkillers. Mel is now clean – and a mother herself. She spends the majority of her time bringing up her two daughters and writes and edits for a living.


When we think about the effects of addiction on families, we tend to think more about the addict themselves than about their partner or spouse, and their children, but the fact is, substance abuse has profound and far-reaching consequences on every member of the family. One in eight adult alcohol drinkers develop a drinking problem at some point in their lives, which means there’s a lot of families out there who are suffering right along with their addicted parents, partners, children, or siblings.

When a family member becomes addicted to alcohol or drugs, the entire family dynamic changes, because just as the addict’s behavior changes as a result of the addiction, so do does the behavior of every other family member change in response. These behavioral changes are called coping mechanisms, and they’re a way for each family member to protect themselves from being hurt by the addict’s behavior, and to ensure that family balance can be maintained. Often, these coping mechanisms are dysfunctional, and can lead to further problems in the family, and for the children of the family as they grow up. 

Within the family of an addict, at least one member will take on a role known as enabling. When it’s a partner or spouse who is an addict, the enabler role is usually fulfilled by the other partner; sometimes, the role might be fulfilled by one of the addict’s children. The enabler is someone who does everything they can to keep the family functioning as normally as possible. They make sure the bills get paid, they make excuses for the addict’s behavior, and above all, they deny what’s really going on, in an effort to make sure that the family continues to seem normal from the outside.

Children tend to take on various different roles; for example, an older child will often assume a caretaker role which might involve them taking care of younger siblings, and even providing emotional support or acting as a go-between for their parents. Some children act out by getting into trouble at school, and some cope by withdrawing and isolating themselves from the family.

How do family members begin to heal from the damage that addiction causes? For partners and spouses of addicts, there’s a strong need to work on repairing and restoring trust, in order to heal from the hurt that results from the addiction, and to begin rebuilding the relationship. For children of addicts, it’s often necessary to look at the coping mechanisms they’ve developed to discover how they’ve been affected by the addict’s behavior, and to learn how they can start to heal. This is particularly important for children, to ensure that they can learn healthier ways of coping with problems, and that they can develop healthy relationships as adults.

To learn more about the problems that families face when one member of the family is suffering from an addiction, read this article at, which explores how family members cope with the altered family dynamics that result.

The Difference Between an Obsession and an Addiction

parentAn obsession and an addiction can look the same but the root is very different.  For instance, you gamble every week spending approximately $10 on lottery tickets; gambling in this example is your behavior that can be obsessive, addictive or both.  The obsessive part of your behavior is gambling at the same store, on the same day, with the same numbers and if it is not done in this manner then you cannot win.  It does not matter if there is evidence of past wins; it only matters that things be done a certain way.  The addictive part of your behavior is dreaming of how the money will be spent, what will be bought, and who will benefit from the winnings.  The dreaming is active and an entire day can be spent just thinking about the possibilities.

Obsessive Behavior.  When you obsess, ritualistic routines are part of your everyday life.  Perhaps you comb your hair the same way you did as a teenager, you recheck all of the doors at night even though you have been told it is already locked, you replay the same conversation over and over again just trying to figure it out, you wash your hands after anyone touches them, you clean with bleach because that is the only way to get things truly clean, you straighten things up and like things in neat rows, or you count the number of beeps on your car door lock before believing it is locked.  All of these behaviors have roots in fear.  Fear that if you don’t follow your routine you will get a headache, fear that if you don’t recheck things the house will burn down, fear that you will miss something important if you can’t figure out the conversation, fear that you might get infected and die, fear that if things aren’t clean someone might think badly about you, fear that if things aren’t straight your whole life will be out-of-order, or fear that if you don’t hear a certain number you will lose the car.  Fear, either real or imagined, leads to obsessive behavior.

Addictive Behavior.  When you are addicted, you never feel satisfied unless using the substance.  Perhaps you drink alcohol to relax, take prescription drugs to numb the pain, shop for clothing to feel better about how you look, gamble to earn quick easy money, exercise to get the adrenaline high, look at porn to feel desirable, smoke to unwind, watch soap operas to feel romantic, play video games to feel successful or eat sugar to get energy.  All of these behaviors have roots in escaping from an undesirable place to a desirable place and in fantasy living.  Fantasizing about a life with less stress, fantasizing about a life without pain, fantasizing about a body that you want, fantasizing about having lots of money, fantasizing about feeling high all the time, fantasizing about being desirable, fantasizing about less anxiety, fantasizing about a romantic relationship, fantasizing about being the best or fantasizing about limitless energy.  Your fantasy life, either from real experiences or imagined, leads to addictive behavior.

Combination.  Putting obsessive and addictive behavior together can intensify both the desire to avoid fear and the desire to escape.  While you may clean with bleach because you fear that someone might think you are dirty, you can also become addicted to the smell of bleach and fantasize about living dirt free.  Or you can fantasize about being the best video game player and insist that you can’t be successful at video games until you reach a certain level three times.  This is precisely why it is hard to recover from obsessive and addictive behavior because they can be co-mingled rather easily.  The key is separating out the behaviors and tracing them back to the root of the problem in order to stop doing the undesirable behavior.

It takes time and energy to do this process and even in recovery of an addiction or obsession, new addictions or obsessions often emerge to take the place of old ones.  By recognizing what is obsessive and what is addictive however, you can go back to each individual root and address the underlying problem.  While it is a hard personal journey, it is well worth the time and effort.


Repairing, restoring, and rebuilding relationships takes time, energy and effort.  If you find yourself needing more help during this process, please call our offices at 407-647-7005 to schedule an appointment.  Or you can send me a quick email at

Do You Have a Food Addiction?

Some addictions are more easily identified than others and with some addictions, eliminating the substance is very effective.   however, with a food addiction there really is no way to stop eating without getting another serious problem.  So you are forced to deal with it nearly everyday and every time you eat.  This article is very enlightening as to what type of food addiction you might have and some simple ways to attempt to overcome.

Of course, the only way to have complete healing is to discover the root of the problem and fix that.  Changing your eating habits can provide temporary relief from a food addiction but long-term results require solutions that are much more personal and deeper.  Counseling helps to reveal the hidden areas of your life that could be contributing to your food addiction.  In the meantime, this article is a good place to start.

Repairing, restoring, and rebuilding relationships takes time, energy and effort.  If you find yourself needing more help during this process, please call our offices at 407-647-7005 to schedule an appointment.  Or you can send me a quick email at

Article about Similarities Between Fructose and Alcohol

This is a frightening article about the similarities between fructose and alcohol. Not only are the health issues troubling but the addictive implications are equally troubling. A person can be addicted to sugar and fructose just like other substances.


Repairing, restoring, and rebuilding relationships takes time, energy and effort.  If you find yourself needing more help during this process, please call our offices at 407-647-7005 to schedule an appointment.  Or you can send me a quick email at

Must Watch Video for Addicts or Those Who Love Addicts

English: Source: The National Institute on Dru...

English: Source: The National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Image taken from (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

60 Minutes has done several videos on addiction in the past and a quick search on their website can be very informative regarding the various types of addictions, brain chemistry, and recovery.  But the latest video highlighting the work of Dr. Nora Volkow who is the head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse is by far one of my favorites.  In a little over 13 minutes she explains in non-scientific language how a person becomes addicted and how difficult it is to overcome addiction.  If you are an addict or you love an addict, please take the time to watch this important video.  By the end you will have a better understanding of the impact of addiction in their life and others.

Repairing, restoring, and rebuilding relationships takes time, energy and effort.  If you find yourself needing more help during this process, please call our offices at 407-647-7005 to schedule an appointment.  Or you can send me a quick email at