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Family Risk Factors on Addiction
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In the last section, we discussed the "threaten, punish, and relent" cycle, and ways that family members try to force change in an addict.
In this section, we will discuss the three main reasons families cling to old habits of coping and become highly resistant to change. These are being locked into recycling past habits; relegating themselves to the sideline; and "feeling comfortable".
3 Reasons Families Cling to Old Habits
♦ Reason # 1 - Locked into Recycling Past Habits
Antonia, a 34-year old mother of three, was stuck in the same pattern of clinging to old habits that failed to make any improvement in her situation. Her husband, Carlo, frequently went into drunken rages. Antonia told me, "When he started chucking bottles around, I would grab the kids up, go out a window, and take off. Sometimes we'd go to a friend's house. Once we went to another town and stayed in a hotel for a few days. But I never told the children why. My mother told me never to talk against your husband, and it was too painful to discuss the reasons with my children". After a few days, Antonia would come home, clean up the mess Carlo had made, and carry on like nothing had happened.
Antonia continually recycled her old actions of dealing with Carlo, she perpetuated the past. As you can tell, escaping from the house and then cleaning up after Carlo did nothing to improve Antonia's situation. Carlo never had to take responsibility for his drunken rages. Antonia's refusal to deal with the situation was a tacit acceptance of his behavior, and so Carlo continued to act as he always had.
♦ Reason # 2 - Relegating to the Sideline
Antonia's passive stance relegated her to the sidelines. Rather than making change, she was watching Carlo's behavior, leaving it to chance whether things would improve. As you know, the odds favor addiction. Antonia played the waiting game, passively dealing with the consequences of Carlo's alcoholism instead of addressing the problem in a meaningful way.
♦ Reason # 3 - "Feeling Comfortable"
Antonia felt "comfortable" with the way she had always dealt with Carlo. She told me, "I was sure that eventually he'd realize why we'd be gone for days at a time, maybe even thank me for keeping the kids safe. Someday he has to realize what he's doing to us."
Before the family member of an addict can change, I find that they have to be rigorously honest with themselves about their resistance to change. For Antonia, it was easier to suffer than to change. Thinking about what she might have to do to get in to a better situation was terrifying. I asked her to ask herself, "Am I willing to leave behind the comfort of my old ways?" I told her, the pain of change always gets better, but the pain of staying the same always gets worse.
In summary, I find that there are three main reasons families of addicts are resistant to trying new methods to change their situation. These are they get locked into a habit of recycling past actions, they relegate themselves to the sidelines, and they feel "comfortable" with the way they have always dealt with things.
♦ "New Rules/Old Rules" Exercise
To help Antonia get ready to face making a change in her family's life, I asked her to participate in the "New Rules/Old Rules" exercise.
Step One - First, I asked her to list the old rules she lived by, for example, always cleaning up Carlo's messes right away.
Step Two - I asked her then to firmly cross out the rules she would like to change or break.
Step Three - Next, I asked her to come up with new rules she would like to have, and write them next to the crossed-out ones.
Step Four - Next, I encouraged Antonia to try to recognize when one of her old rules was trying to control her behavior. Did she notice herself automatically heading for the paper towels every time Carlo threw or spilled something?
Step Five - I asked Antonia to notice and write down how that situation made her feel.
Step Six - Finally, in our sessions, I worked through some visualization exercises with Antonia. I asked her to imagine a situation in which she used a new rule instead of an old one. I then asked her to imagine how it would look, what she would do differently, how it would feel and sound.
In this section, we have discussed the three main reasons families of addicts are resistant to trying new things to change their situation. These were being locked into past habits; relegating themselves to the sideline; and "feeling comfortable". Would it be beneficial to play this section in your next session with the family member of an addict?
In the next section, we will discuss the survival skills practiced by the families of addicts. These are being a contortionist, trying to keep the addict happy, inventing new ways of connecting, and unspoken rules.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Cleveland, M. J., Feinberg, M. E., & Jones, D. E. (2012). Predicting alcohol use across adolescence: Relative strength of individual, family, peer, and contextual risk and protective factors. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 26(4), 703–713.
Guyll, M., Spoth, R. L., Chao, W., Wickrama, K. A. S., & Russell, D. (2004). Family-Focused Preventive Interventions: Evaluating Parental Risk Moderation of Substance Use Trajectories. Journal of Family Psychology, 18(2), 293–301.
Johnson, A. K., Fulco, C. J., & Augustyn, M. B. (2019). Intergenerational continuity in alcohol misuse: Maternal alcohol use disorder and the sequelae of maternal and family functioning. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 33(5), 442–456.
Joyner, K. J., Acuff, S. F., Meshesha, L. Z., Patrick, C. J., & Murphy, J. G. (2018). Alcohol family history moderates the association between evening substance-free reinforcement and alcohol problems. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, 26(6), 560–569.
Rehbein, F., & Baier, D. (2013). Family-, media-, and school-related risk factors of video game addiction: A 5-year longitudinal study. Journal of Media Psychology: Theories, Methods, and Applications, 25(3), 118–128.
Roy, A. L., Isaia, A., & Li-Grining, C. P. (2019). Making meaning from money: Subjective social status and young children’s behavior problems. Journal of Family Psychology, 33(2), 240–245.
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