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Family and Addiction Notes

I recently had the opportunity to have a public conversation around Family and Addiction at my local Recovery-Oriented Service (ROS), Columbia Pathways to Recovery (CPR) and wanted to make my notes public.

First, I wanted to get the point across that any medical condition or disease impacts the family system. So I asked, “What impact does any illness have on the family? What happens to the dynamics?” Here are the highlights: Everyone gets stressed, old wounds open up, the family system adjusts in either healthy or unhealthy way to get through a crisis. It takes time, love, connection, and chicken soup to help aid recovery (if recovery is afforded by the disease). Also, in times of need, we look for accurate information about the course of the disease and what the recovery looks like so we can make informed decisions.

The topic of family is such an intricate part of a successful recovery because it is one of the main roots of addiction. The family is where we learn to create relationships and addiction is really about our toxic relationship to the drug. Our original wounds start with the family, which makes the subject extremely sensitive. In family systems, many of our wounds are inherited and are transmitted so we are not responsible for them but it is our responsibility to not continue to transmit them. This includes our addictions. Moments of vulnerability are opportunities for developing addictions. Addiction starts well before any addictive behavior has started and is learned in the family system or in relation to the people that meet our earliest wants and needs. So, relationship to our addictions can also be seen as a displaced attachment to an unhealthy source.

For this public conversation, I also prepared a list of addictive traits that I am looking for in my own children’s behaviors and development. Here is what I am looking for: shame-based and/or toxic relationship to self or others, how they respond to guilt, how they relate and treat others and their community, unhealthy attachment to external validation, how they handle disease and adversities, avoidant behaviors, risky behavior, short-term thinking, describes feelings of being stuck, obsessive or fixations, inability to ask for help and accept help, and disruptive behaviors in social situation. I watch to see if they ask for and accept help, or do they display depression and anxieties that are outside the norm, style of peer interactions, social and cultural context around pain and pleasure, relationship to “more,” and unhealthy relationship to natural highs. Lastly, I am committed to making sure that they do not lose their childhood because of adult themes.

What I will do to counteract these: ensure a emotionally safe environment where it is okay to learn from mistakes, model healthy with humility, openness, and willingness, have early and appropriate interventions when something is noticed, monitor psycho-social development after the introduction of an illness or disease, provide examples of balance through literature and media, create emotional safety and connection within the family system and community, validate positive and negative emotions, create daily structure and routine, daily play, creative expression, and perform meditation together. All learning occurs through mimicking and non-threatening directives so the biggest thing that I can do is take inventory of my stuff and address my traumas and addictive tendencies.

Here are some resources for creating and maintaining healthy relationships with children but everyone can use what is taught in these books to support their inner-children, change their self-talk, or apply in their current relationships.

Siegel, D., Bryson, T. P. (2012). The whole-brain child: 12 revolutionary strategies to nurture your child’s developing mind. New York, NY: Bantam Book Trade Paperbacks.

Siegel, D., Bryson, T. P. (2014). No-drama discipline: The whole-brain way to calm the chaos and nurture your child’s developing mind. New York, NY: Bantam Book.

Brooks, R., Goldstein, S. (2001). Raising resilient children: Fostering strength, hope, and optimism in your child. Chicago, IL: Contemporary Books.

Also Dan Siegel on Youtube… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JNNT7loaQAo

by Adam O’Brien LMHC, CASAC, EAS-C is the owner/clinician of Mutual Arising Mental Health Counseling, PLLC in Chatham NY. He works primarily with people suffering from their addictions but is also a trauma therapist working with victims of crime. In these freelance writings, he brings a variety of experiences and points of view to entertain and educate. He is an EMDRIA certified EMDR therapist and is trained in Progressive Counting and Brainspotting. 

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