Contributor: Paul Loosemore, MA, PCLC, and writer for Addiction Hope.
When you enter recovery for addiction you often have to inventory all of your behaviors and the consequences you have experienced. The behaviors and consequences will extend beyond you to those you love and interact with. In them you clearly see the fall-out of recovery.
Different addictions mean different experiences
It is important to recognize that not all addictions are alike, and that all addictions will share some common factors. For example, the relational impact of a sexual addiction is likely to differ when compared to gambling addiction.
However the differences must not stop you from appreciating the common disturbances. The effects mentioned below generally apply to substance, sex/love, internet, device and work addictions. Remember, specific differences apply for all of these addictions.
Disrupting the regular patterns of life
Life within a family (or other ‘system’—e.g. work) will organize itself to accommodate an addiction.
When you begin to recover from addiction, a family shift is needed to make space for a changing person.
Commonly, “Recovering couples and families struggle to redefine relationships, to restore old roles, responsibilities and power in the relationship”.(1)
Reorganization is no small task. Entrenched patterns are not easily shifted without emotional distress. The more aware you can be of these changes the more likely you will be able to navigate them well.
Trust, fear and intimacy
Most addicts have an impaired ability to move towards a partner in an intimate way. This includes emotional, verbal and sexual components. A partner can be left feeling very isolated, unloved and undesirable. This is particularly the case with sexual/love addictions.
For example, it is “Only later, when forced to deal with their partner’s feelings of deep betrayal, diminished self-esteem, anger, depression, distancing, and thoughts of ending the relationship do [addicts] understand [that online extramarital activity is still cheating]”.(2)
A partner hurt in this way needs care, and for the addict to demonstrate growing trustworthiness. It is only appropriate for partners to trust an addict who is growing and worthy of their trust.
This effect applies to substance abuse as well, where “Males may find it difficult to become aroused and so engaging in sexual activity becomes almost impossible – they may be suffering from erectile dysfunction. Women will also suffer from decreased libido.”(3) This is often a very painful emotional experience for couples.
Marriages and families take time to rebuild trust with an addict and know how to behave with them.
When addicts have been dangerous, neglectful or confusing, children and partners will need to acclimatize to a new presentation from the addict—they are in a sense “testing the waters”. Children often gain a parent and wonder if they will stay. Partners regain a friend who has deeply hurt them.
Emotional chaos: resentment and confusion
It is a wonderful thing for an addict to receive the help they need, yet it often triggers painful emotions for other family members. Often others needs are neglected or suppressed to maintain the status-quo. When the systems dynamics shift, then this can heighten the emotional tension with long ignored wounds coming to the surface.
Usually, “as the addict struggles [in recovery]… the spouse or other family member is… smarting over past hurts. They observe the alcoholic focusing on their own recovery and issues and wonder when they will carve out some time and attention for the family.”(4)
The lingering odor of selfishness takes a long time to clear and is very offensive to all who are affected.
The roller coaster continues: “When [addicts] finally become sober they feel like children. Simple feelings terrify them. They think there is something wrong with them merely for feeling afraid, hurt, or angry.”(5)
After suppressing emotions for a long time, emotions overwhelm an addict and they seem needy or childlike to other people. This can put more pressure on a family and takes time to heal.
Giving people new positions in the family
As recovery continues the addict will take up new roles and gain responsibilities in areas they previously neglected. This is good in the long term, yet will demand an adjustment from everyone in the system. One consequence is a pressure to reshape the identity of family members.
For example: a child maybe forced into a caretaker role for a neglected parent, and when the addict takes back the appropriate responsibility for the partner, the child is left experiencing a potential isolation and lose of identity.
This is a critical aspect of a family’s recovery and is greatly helped through family therapy.
It is crucial that care and sensitivity are given to the adjustments the family has to make.
The family may desperately want an addict to recover, and inadvertently push back against recovery as their own lives are affected.
The 6-month mark
“It takes a minimum of six months of sobriety for a chronic user to stabilize enough so that the natural therapeutic process can begin working again… the appearance of depression [is common] as the remorse and sadness… surfaces.”(6) Viscott reminds us that addicts take time to learn, and begin using the natural processing of emotions. It can take a toll on family members who are involved in educating the addict in this way.
Financial pressures and legal concerns
Recovery work usually comes with a financial cost. Loved ones give up many securities and luxuries as they support an addict. Furthermore, the past addiction is likely to have consumed family resources and created new deficits such as legal proceedings.
Work and social realms
Addicts often spend time and effort pursuing their addiction. This time and effort was kept from career advancement, social activities and engagement in other rich aspects of life.
The two dimensional nature of an addict’s life is obvious to others, who may be wary to celebrate the addict’s return to active engagement.
Unfortunately the delays that occurred linger in the rearview with consequences that are often difficult to name.
The last word
This is a sobering account of the effects of addiction. If you are an addict, let it inspire you towards recovery and a life worth living. If an addict affects you, let it convey the comfort that you are not alone in this struggle, that help is available and a more satisfying experience is possible.
Addiction and its effects don’t have to be the final word.
Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!
What changes were made in order to strengthen your relationships as you entered recovery?
(1): Ferguson, P. (2009, May 19). Early Addiction Recovery. Retrieved November 9, 2015.
(2): Weiss, R., & Schneider, J. (2015). Always turned on: Facing sex addiction in the digital age. Carefree, Arizona: Gentle Path Press. p. 53
(3): Impact of addiction on intimacy and sexual relationships. (n.d.). Retrieved November 9, 2015, from http://alcoholrehab.com/addiction-recovery/addiction-and-intimacy-sexual-relationships/
(4): Ferguson, P. (2009, May 19).
(5): Viscott, D. (1996). Emotional resilience: Simple truths for dealing with the unfinished business of your past. New York: Harmony Books.
(6): Viscott, D. (1996). p. 68
About the author: Written by Paul Loosemore, MA PLPC. Paul works as a mental health counselor, and consults with those who wish to recover from Sexual Addiction—He is the founder of www.stopsexualaddiction.com.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on December 15, 2015
Published on AddictionHope.com