Rebuilding Trust With Family Members When Finances Have Been Exploited

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21.5 million Americans have a substance used disorder, applies to people 12 years of age and older, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine [5]. Of this number 1.9 million people have developed an addiction to prescription pain medications and 23% use opioids and 17.3 million Americans are abusing alcohol [5]. With this many individuals struggling with addiction, it is easy to see why parents, spouses, children and extended family have trouble regaining trust with the addicted individual.

Impact of Addiction on Relationships

Many couples and families dealing with addiction have, on average, four times the risk of divorce than their non-addiction peers [4]. Typically divorce occurs while the individual is in recovery, according to Dr. Bon Navarra, Master Certified Gottman Therapist, trainer and consultant. 48.3% in recent study who had past or current substance use had experienced a divorce at some point in their lives [4].

Reconciling with a family member can be difficult, especially after the trauma and betrayal that addictions can bring. Counseling, both individual, and family can be extremely helpful during the rebuilding process. Additional support such as, AA, NA, Al-Anon, and Codependents of SA are helpful to the recovery process and rebuilding of family [4].

Rebuilding trust with family members is important for healing in families. Trust is vital to humans, human connections, and communities. Many times individuals are asked, or ask of themselves, Can I trust this or Can I trust this person?

We when look at trust in relevance to social capital within the field of sociology, we see that different regions within the US have varying degrees of trust. We also see differences internationally as well [1]. Trust is subjective then, not an objective definition, which can also change in definition and context. Robert Putnam, author of the book, Bowling Alone, which documents the decline of trust and community within the United States reports that there has been a significant decline in the trust of others in the last 50 years [1].

Consequences of Actions

Fishing with familyBetrayal and trust can be a subtle action or event. Typically we think of betrayal as a life altering event or action. Dr. Gottman in his 20 year research filmed a 15 minute interaction between couples and had each partner turn a rating dial as they watched the tape afterward which measured their trust level (increasing or decreasing) or betrayal metric.

When families trust each other, they can disagree and yet continue to keep their partner or child’s well-being and interests in mind [1]. When Dr Gottman looked at the results of the betrayal metric, they found that a high trust metric is correlated with very positive outcomes [1], such as greater stability within the family, meaning that within a family system each member acts to ‘raise’ your metric dial, or to increase your trust. Within this study there were couples, 11% who had zero-sums tolerance (or higher feelings of betrayal and trust issues) and those that had cooperative-game tolerance, or more stable feelings of trust.

Over the 20 year study Dr. Gottman found that the 11% zero sums tolerance had 58% husbands had died during the study, where the cooperative-game tolerance couples, only 20% had died, both taking into consideration age and health and initial health. Dr Gottman conducted a further study to research why those results were so.

The researchers in the second study found that if a wife trusts her husband, both experience consistent slower blood regardless of conflict within the relationship or not. This slower blood flow is associated with increased health and longer life [1]. The researchers also discovered that trust is connected to the secretion of oxytocin which is the ‘feel good’ hormone and the hormone connected to bonding. The release of this hormone also suspends fear, something that couples and families often experience when in conflict [1].

The Power of Building Trust

Building trust therefore is very powerful and is built in small moments within family and human interaction. In any interaction with another person, there is a possibility for connection or disconnection. When we support a family member, connect with them, and think about words used, there is trust being build.

These are very slowly and gradually built [1]. According to Dr. Gottman’s work, there is a basis for building trust, called ATTUNE. This stands for Awareness of your partner’s emotions; Turning toward the emotion; Tolerance of two different viewpoints: trying to Understand your partner; Non-defensive response to your partner; and responding with Empathy [1].

Betrayal is not disconnecting or ignoring the person, it is actually turning away from the emotion of a loved on. The addict may thinking, although unconscious often, “I can do better than this” and feel resentment for the relationship, lowers their investment within the relationship, berating or trashing their family member to draw in closer to their addiction [1].

Rebuilding trust with family members focuses on three aspects. First is is learning that others will not engage in trust if individual members do not trust themselves. Secondly the person must act in a way where they are able to be trusted, such as going to residential or inpatient treatment, making amends, using community resources. Third, it is learning to trust the addict family member again over time. This process can be very slow and, as mentioned above, happen over time in small moments [2].

When returning home from treatment, or when engaging in rebuilding trust it is important to exercise patience with family members. There have been past hurts and feelings of betrayal and pain. Trust does not immediately happen and sometimes is hard to understand. Utilizing the help of a family therapist is crucial in rebuilding trust within the family [3].

Showing dedication to family members through apologies, making amends, and physical and behavioral lifestyles changes that are consistent over time. Staying focused on recovery is also a crucial part of rebuilding trust. Staying connected to community resources, support systems and treatment teams can ensure a recovery[3].

Family rebuilding trustIt is equally important for family members to be involved in the recovery process to further understand and be educated about the addiction and its physical, emotional, and behavioral changes that occur while in an active addiction [4].

Learning how the family has felt affected, how the addiction has affected them and regrets can help all members heal and move forward stronger. The addict can start to rebuild trust by learning to listen, and ask for patience and time and well as engage in honesty with family members and take responsibility for past actions.

Community Discussion – Share Your Thoughts Here!

What has helped your family heal from a betrayal of trust?

Image of Libby Lyons and familyAbout the Author: Libby Lyons, MSW, LCSW, CEDS, is a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist (CEDS) who works with individuals and families in the area of eating disorders. Mrs. Lyons works in the metropolitan St. Louis area and has been practicing in the field for 11 years. Libby is also trained in Family Based Therapy (FBT) to work with children-young adults to treat eating disorders. Mrs. Lyons has prior experience working with the United States Air Force, Saint Louis University, Operating Officer of a Private Practice, and currently works with both Saint Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute within their Eating Disorders Program and Fontbonne University



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 26, 2016
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About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Addiction Hope in January, 2013, after experiencing years of inquiries for addiction help by visitors to our well regarded sister site, Eating Disorder Hope. Many of the eating disorder sufferers that contact Eating Disorder Hope also had a co-occurring issue of addiction to alcohol, drugs, and process addictions.