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Anxiety, Stress & Coping
August 22, 2023
The Ripple Effect: How a Loved One's Addiction Affects the Whole Family

Olivia Vander Vloet

person in a green sweater and grey pants sitting in a chair holding hands with another person in support of each other

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Understanding How Your Loved One’s Addiction Impacts You

Addiction isn’t a solo act; it’s more like tossing a stone into a calm pond and then standing back to watch the ripples spread in every direction. Those ripples don’t just fizzle out—they keep moving, touching everything they come across. Similarly, addiction’s impact isn’t confined to the individual caught in its grip. It stretches out, reaching the far corners of the family dynamic, and creates a tangle of reactions called parallel processes.

Imagine addiction as a twist of the kaleidoscope, altering the patterns and colours of family interactions. Each turn of the kaleidoscope signifies a new adaptation as the person struggling with addiction and their family members adjust their perspectives. As the person’s view becomes all about that addiction, the family’s view shifts, too. It’s like their world starts revolving around their loved one’s struggle. These parallel processes shake things up, causing us to perceive and handle things in a new light.

Now, let’s take a closer look at how these parallel processes might manifest within the family:

  1. Emotions: As addiction progresses within the family, our emotions get influenced differently. The emotions of our loved ones become intertwined with their addiction, being determined by the ups and downs of the substance, while our own emotions become entangled with their behaviours. Likewise, our coping mechanisms change alongside. Our loved ones turn to addiction to escape distressing feelings, while we, the family members, often divert our attention by becoming fixated on our loved one’s issues.
  2. Tolerance: As our loved ones’ addiction worsens, so does their need for their preferred substance or behaviour. Tolerance is when, for example, five drinks used to be enough, but now they require 7 to achieve the same effect. Family members also experience a form of tolerance, though it is centred on their loved one’s behaviours. The initial shock of our loved ones consuming excessive amounts and needing hospitalization is astounding, but after multiple occurrences, it can start feeling like just another ordinary Wednesday.
  3. Focus: When life becomes overwhelming, our loved one turns their focus to their chosen substance or behaviour as a way to find comfort. Conversely, for the family members, their actions become the main focus. We begin closely observing and interpreting their behaviour, hoping to uncover insights that could help us navigate emerging challenges.

During these intricate parallel processes, a ray of hope emerges for families grappling with the challenges of addiction. As we unravel the complexities of emotions, shifting tolerance, and altered focus, we discover a journey of adaptation and growth. As addiction’s impact spreads, so does the potential for healing and resilience. 

If you’d like to explore the impact of parallel processes in your life, Shift Collab has some fantastic therapists who specialize in addiction and can help you! You can also watch Olivia's past virtual event to learn more on this topic, plus actionable steps to break away from enabling.


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