Addiction is a Family Disease

Continuing the theme of shedding light into the inner workings of Dilworth Center…

May 4th 2016 at 10:45am View Comments

Continuing the theme of shedding light into the inner workings of Dilworth Center…

When you look at the Dilworth Center’s treatment philosophy, you will find that we aim to help not only our patients, but also their families. Throughout treatment, we reference the idea that addiction is a family disease. But what does this really mean?

To begin with, there is a proven genetic component to addiction. Activity in the brain and physiological reactions to drugs and alcohol are different in people with a genetic predisposition to addiction. Research suggests that some of this predisposition is innate, meaning it is present in the brain at birth. Some of it, on the other hand, is fostered by and expressed through the environment in which one lives, which leads to the other explanation of addiction as a family disease.

Addiction is accompanied by certain “character defects,” as they are called in 12-step programs. These include but are not limited to secrecy, manipulation, and egocentrism. Behaviorally, these character defects play out in family dynamics. Alcoholics and addicts are not the only family members to engage in and perpetuate character defects. Loved ones - mothers, fathers, partners, siblings, children, grandparents, etc. - participate in unhealthy family dynamics as well. For example, it is common for family members to foster the concept of keeping family matters a secret from the outside world and appearing “perfect” or put-together. This, in turn, isolates the family, may disallow them from seeking help for the alcoholic or addict, and can turn into what we call enabling. Children who grow up in isolated or substance-abusing families tend to repeat these patterns in their adulthood.

Often, children of alcoholics will suggest that, as a child, they were determined to not abuse substances and/or repeat the patterns of dysfunction in their family. However, without treatment and a 12-step program, they may not know how to break the cycle of deeply engrained character defects and family patterns. Furthermore, due to the genetic component of addiction, they may not have any control over whether they develop an addiction themselves, which may inevitably foster the same patterns.

Finally, addiction is a family disease because it can often cause a significant amount of pain and resentments for loved ones.

With all of this knowledge, it would be a huge detriment to our patients if we did not encourage, if not require, family members to participate in treatment. At Dilworth Center, we offer a free family program that allows any loved one to attend treatment, obtain education, and participate in a group therapy process once or twice a week. We have two family counselors who help family members heal from their pain, while teaching them how to support their loved ones in recovery. Our family program is available for anyone age 15 and up. However, if younger children are interested in participating, we have the Dilworth Kids program for ages 8-14 that is offered as needed.

For more information on Al Anon and Alateen in Charlotte, visit Charlotte Al-Anon Meeting List

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