Understanding Addiction: It’s A Family Disease!
Understanding Addiction: It’s A Family Disease!

Understanding Addiction: It’s A Family Disease!

Many people who have loved ones struggling with addiction know the disease of addiction affects the entire family when one family member is addicted the whole family suffers. But despite experiencing the fear, anger and chaos produced by addictive behaviors- wives, husbands, siblings, parents and other relatives have little knowledge that they are in need of recovery as well. Perhaps it’s because some families believe that addiction is a choice and therefore the addict is responsible for “fixing” the problem. Though this thought seems a bit archaic to those in the mental health field, sadly, education on addiction as a family disease is not as widespread.

September 22, 2016


Addiction is a disease which severely disrupts family life and causes devastation that may impact several generations of a family if left unaddressed. Helping families to increase their knowledge and awareness of addiction is an important part of supporting the recovery of the addict. It’s important that families learn that just as it’s the addict’s responsibility for his or her own recovery, the family must also embrace that they too are responsible for their own recovery. In short, families have to take responsibility for enabling behaviors, which supports the addiction. Yes, it is very important to think of recovery as a family affair.

Addiction has two types of faces: Chemical Addiction (drugs, alcohol) and Non-Chemical Addiction (co-dependency, sex, gambling, eating disorders etc.) which most often times may co-exist with a mental health issue creating a co-morbid disease.

Providing education, awareness, and preventative measures are just a few of the tools necessary to help not just the struggling addict but the families who are as equally or more infected by the disease of addiction. Many families are of the notion that the disease of addiction stems from unhealthy choices, surrounding oneself with others who use or are just enjoying the taste of substances; however, as you read this article you will learn that there are many contributing biological and environmental factors that combine to aid in the manifestation of the disease that affects us as human beings.

Through my studies and research, I have learned that from birth individuals are born with a deficiency in the neurotransmitter pathways that are responsible for their inability to process emotions in a healthy manner Their inability to cope psychologically and emotionally leads to coping through some form of addiction (Chemical or Non Chemical).

Why can’t addicts just quit?

Addiction whether it’s chemical or non-chemical is a complex disease of the mind. Substances and or trauma related events in early childhood have an impact on the development of the individual’s brain and also has the propensity to change brain circuits.

Any chemical/substance (i.e. drugs and alcohol) that enters the body in any form has the propensity to alter the circuits/wiring in the limbic system which is responsible for controlling emotions to increase feelings of pleasure. This pleasure center in the brain is deficient from birth and deteriorates even further as we begin using, misusing, abusing or become dependent on drugs and alcohol which also affects our cognition.

The use of drugs or alcohol seizes the developmental growth of the cognitive aspect and pleasure center of the brain causing individuals suffering with this disease to lack emotional maturity and endure psychological distortions.

To better understand the part of the brain that is affected by the disease, is to become aware of the 5 reward pathways (Serotonin, Gabba, Opioid, Dopamine and Adrenaline) that are involved in the brains pleasure center. From the time of birth these neurotransmitter pathways are deficient which leads to a Reward Deficiency Syndrome that attacks the cognitive parts of the brain, and or the frontal lobe.

  • Hypersexual Behavior
  • Risk Taking
  • Compulsive Eating

When the Deficiency Syndrome impacts the frontal lobe the following; behaviors develop as a result:

  • Oppositional Defiant Disorder
  • Inattention Demotivation Risk taking
  • Chemical Dependency
  • Impulsivity
  • Lack of Self criticism

When Chemicals such as Serotonin and Dopamine Levels are imbalanced either organically or biologically the following disorders have the potential to develop:

  • Aggression
  • Depression
  • Mania
  • Panic Attacks
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Anxiety
  • Phobias
  • Sleep disorders (somatization)
  • Immune Disorder

When the Reward Deficiency Syndrome goes unrecognized and untreated overtime it manifests into the many facets of addiction that we see in individuals in our community today.

  • Addictive Behaviors
  • A lcoholism
  • Drug Abuse
  • Gambling

Through my own personal journey in recovery and working directly with families impacted by the disease of addiction, I have seen them reach and find solace in speaking to men and women who have experienced recovery and who helped explain to the family’s what addiction is from the addict’s point of view.

My perspective on addiction and my understanding of the disease as it relates to my recovery is viewed as a “3 part diseasemental, physical and spiritual.”“There are some people who just have a physical allergy (dependency); which means when the drugs or alcohol enter their body they react in a way similar to someone who has an allergy to food (i.e. peanuts or shellfish) which can be lethal.” In my mind (psychologically) the more I used the more unmanageable my life became but I couldn’t see that through my eyes. When I used drugs it would affect my mind in ways that were uncontrollable. I use compulsively and had obsessive thoughts about using; this pattern of behavior- using compulsively, obsessive thinking and impulsive decision making became the center of my daily living.

The Benefit to entering treatment is to gain knowledge and awareness of the disease of addiction, combined with the 12 step recovery program offered through Alcoholics Anonymous opens the door and one’s eyes to a whole new world of fellowship, sponsorship, and spirituality. The 12 Step principles of Alcoholics Anonymous is the foundation of my spirituality and relationship with my higher power as I understand him. The 12 Steps of AA, the fellowship and obtaining a sponsor helped walk me through real life experiences into sobriety by holding me accountable and showing me how to change my negative attitudes and behaviors. This helps tremendously to sustain a healthy, spiritual journey in one’s recovery today.

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