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.

How Anger Fuels Addictive Behavior

Anger Addiction CycleHave you ever felt as though you were doing the same thing over and over again getting worse and worse results no matter how hard you tried?  Are you caught in a downward spiral that leaves you feeling helpless and more frustrated?  While there are many reasons for addictive behavior, certain emotions such as anger can add fuel to the addictive cycle thereby increasing the intensity and feeling completely out of control.

It all starts with a painful event such as the loss of a job, the betrayal of a close friend or the disappointment of a missed opportunity.  Each of these events can spark anger directed at another person for their part in the event or directed at you for failure to handle the event properly.  The feeling of anger is uncomfortable so you counteract it with a desire to escape or a desire to find pleasure.  You turn to the addiction of your choice: alcohol, drugs, gambling, smoking, spending money, porn, excessive exercising, soap operas, adrenaline, sugar, or video games.  Other people in your life don’t like your addiction so they in turn become angry with you and withdraw.  You are now confused by their response as you were just trying to avoid the angry feelings.  This in turn results in another painful event such as a fight, loss of respect or distrust.

Acknowledge.  The first step to stopping the crazy cycle is acknowledging that you are repeating the same behavior over and over.  You can’t change what you won’t acknowledge.  So admit it.  You are doing the crazy cycle.  This is not the time to blame others for the reason you are doing the crazy cycle; this is the time to accept responsibility for your own crazy behavior.  Everyone is responsible for their own behavior.  This maybe a new concept to you as our culture is quick to blame others, parents, churches, organizations, companies, governments, and even nations for bad behavior.  But this is not constructive thinking, it is destructive thinking.  You are responsible for your own behavior.

Stop at Anger.  There is nothing wrong with feeling angry.  It is a normal emotion which even Jesus felt.  But there is something wrong with acting out in anger or doing something to escape the anger or doing something to suppress the anger (pleasure seeking behavior).  Whether you are acting aggressively angry or avoiding the anger by running away, anger is still controlling your behavior.  It is OK to be angry when you are hurt, when someone hurts you, or when someone hurts someone else.  Just don’t take it to the next step and escape from the anger; rather deal with the anger by confronting how you feel and taking responsibility for the actions that follow.  Just saying the words, “I am angry but I’m going to act responsibly” can restore the out of control feeling to feeling controlled.

Know Your Addiction.  What is your addiction of choice?  More than likely you have more than one addictive behavior.  Not all of the additive behaviors are listed so taking an inventory of your go-to addictions is extremely helpful.  Many times you will go directly from the painful event and skip right past the angry emotion to the additive behavior because you have developed a conditioned response similar to Pavlov’s dogs.  In Pavlov’s experiment, he trained dogs to salivate at the ringing of a bell by first giving food along with ringing the bell.  Before long, he only needed to ring the bell for the dogs to salivate.  You have done the same thing with your addiction.  You no longer need to feel anger to justify the addictive behavior; rather you go straight from the painful event to the addiction.  If you know your addictive behaviors, you can trace backwards to the anger anytime you feel the desire to abuse your substance and stop it from going any further.

You can take responsibility for your own behavior and stop the crazy cycle from destroying your life.  You do not have to be a victim to your addiction or continue to allow painful events determine how you will respond.  Remember, if you make a mistake along the way and slip backwards, it is never too late to turn around no matter what others around you say.  Who you are is NOT defined by your mistakes.  Who you are is defined by your character which can be shaped by your mistakes only if you let it.


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

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

Parenting the tough stuff



If the small stuff like bad test grades, periodic fights with siblings, friendships that come and go, or occasional defiance with food does not faze you as a parent, the tough stuff will.  Sometimes it is a gradual progression, sometimes it comes in waves, and sometimes it hits you all at once.  Whatever the method, the tough stuff of parenting can catch you off guard and leave you questioning yourself, your family and your child.

Perhaps you are dealing with a child who has uncontrollable anger with outbursts so intense that they say hateful things, are uncharacteristically mean, threaten to harm themselves or others, or physically take their anger out on others.  Perhaps you are dealing with a child who stays out all night, comes home acting differently, has questionable friends, lies frequently or displays other signs of potential substance abuse.  Perhaps you are dealing with a child who has withdrawn from most social engagements, has no desire to be with any friends, whose grades are slipping, spend most of their time sleeping or has no interest in things they enjoyed before.  Or perhaps you are dealing with a child who threatens to commit suicide, has marks on their arms and legs indicating cutting, has lost extreme amounts of weight, or seems to do things to gain excessive amounts of attention.  Whichever situation you are dealing with, this is the tough stuff.  So what do you do?

 Don’t deny.  A common philosophy is to blame yourself for your child’s behavior.  This is encouraged in psychology with Freudian beliefs, in society where to admit your child has a problem means that there is something wrong with you, and in our own internal thoughts when we rather blame ourselves than to be honest with the situation.  While your child’s behavior is at some point their responsibility and choice and not yours, there is something to be said for a little self-reflection.  What is your child’s behavior telling you?  Are they acting angry because you are suppressing anger?  Are they demanding attention because they don’t feel loved?  Are they withdrawing because they have been hurt by someone they trusted?  Be honest with the situation and listen to the clues from your child’s behavior.

Deal with yourself first.  Remember the instructions on an airplane, put your own mask first and then help your child.  If your teenage child’s two year old temper tantrum is because they feel overwhelmed with all of the expectations placed on them, then look at the expectations that you have placed unnecessarily on them.  More importantly, look at why those expectations have been placed.  Are you placing expectations on your child that were placed on you?  How do you feel about that?  Or are you placing expectations that are inconsistent with your child’s talents and abilities just because others do the same to you?  Again, be honest with yourself and see your child’s behavior as a reflection of the things you need to address that perhaps you have not addressed.

Do get help.  More often than not, parents bring in their child to therapy to deal with their behavior but do not go to therapy to deal with their own behavior.  It is so much easier to point the finger at your child and drag them into therapy instead of the dealing with your own issues.  Therapy is most effective when the entire family admits that there is a problem and each person deals with their own issues separately and together.  Your child will do far better in therapy when they see you doing better because of therapy.  Be the example that your child needs and get help for your issues.

Many parents will admit that they need help parenting but few will actually take the first step of getting help.  Even fewer will go into therapy for themselves before they send their child however; this is the best method for healing.

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

What if Church was more like an AA Meeting?

Imagine for a moment what church would be like if the Pastor or Announcer began church with, “Hello my name is ___ (fill in with name) and I’m a recovering sinner of ____ (fill in the sin)”.  Would he or she be so bold to admit to their church not the mildest of sins such as a white lie but the grander sins of adultery, stealing, or a pornography addiction? Or perhaps he or she would admit to a personality disorder such as narcissism, borderline, or dependant.  How different would church be if everyone was expected to be honest about their past and present and not pretend to have it all together?

Record numbers of youth are leaving the church for precisely this reason with some estimates as high as 70% of America’s youth who was brought up in church does not return as an adult.  For the youth, they know that they do not have it all together and they do not want to go to a place that expects everyone to act as if they do have it all together.  This trend can be changed but it requires honesty at very deep levels with friends, acquaintances and even complete strangers.  Here are four things spelling CARE which AA does well in their meetings and could improve the atmosphere of any church.

Confessing sin.  One of the essential elements of AA meetings is for an addict to admit their addiction and also admit if they have been tempted recently or given into temptation.  Admitting your sin in front of others is hard but by doing so it holds you accountable to everyone in the room.  This would be quite a moment in the church if everyone knew of your personal struggles with a particular sin.  Just imagine a person struggled with gossip who admits it to the whole congregation, now the whole congregation can work on not gossiping with this person, talk about accountability!

Admitting sin is a life-long battle.  Another essential element of AA is admitting that once you are an addict you will continue to be an addict.  Yes God can and often does remove the desire for an addiction but He sometimes allows it to continue as a reminder that His grace is sufficient.  We are all born with a sinful nature so trying to pretend that we don’t continue to struggle with sin is futile.  Instead if everyone in church openly admitted to their sinful struggles, those struggling with the same sin could feel empathy instead of judgment.

Recognizing God’s grace.  “I have been sober for 1203 days” is a standard statement at an AA meeting.  This statement is designed as a continual reminder that each day is to be lived one day at a time and a reminder of the day they made a decision to do something different with their life.  What if every believer said, “I have been saved by God’s grace for 2678 days”?  How inspiring it would be for those just starting on their journey.

Exemplifying God’s love and forgiveness.  Even when someone falls back into addiction, they are always welcomed back with open arms at an AA meeting.  There are no new expectations, no turning away from a person who has fallen, or refusing to forgive someone who has hurt you.  At an AA meeting, all is forgiven and asking for forgiveness is the only expectation.  After all, we are all sinners and who among us does not need to be forgiven?  What a difference it would be in church if everyone forgave one another.

What if church was more like an AA meeting?  Most would respond by saying what makes AA works so well and for so long is that the people are anonymous, just first names are used.  But as believers of the same God in the same church, should we not desire to show the world a different standard?  A standard that welcomes sinners of all kinds, cares for the needs of it’s’ members, and unites even the strangest members.  Then and only then will we have a church that embraces honesty, rejects falsehood and truly brings glory to God.

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