What makes a dysfunctional family?

Secrets keep a dysfunctional family sick

In families where drug addiction or alcoholism occurs, it can quickly become an unwritten and dysfunctional rule  to keep it a secret. By concealing substance abuse or addiction, the impact on family members increases and the addict does not feel the negative consequences.

What makes a dysfunctional family?

Here are the most common reasons why family members keep secrets and what creates a dysfunctional family:

It can seem like caring
Very often, family members will believe that they are helping the alcoholic or drug addict by hiding the addiction and the impact it has on their lives. This protection has nothing to do with love or care, precisely because secrecy keeps the addict and family in continued denial and creates a dysfunctional family.

Denial of the Problem
When the signs and symptoms of drug addiction and alcoholism are ignored, family members will pretend there is no problem. Consequences mount, but the family continues to pretend that everything will be fine. Denial is a very destructive and dysfunctional existence to be in.

Fear of confrontations

To witness someone close to you getting sicker and sicker in their drug addiction is very scary. Those close to you will therefore try to ignore the problem. There will also be fear of the consequences of confronting the abuser (fear of physical, psychological or emotional abuse, fear of losing house and home if the abuser leaves and fear of the children, etc.)

Avoid ‘waking up the elephant in the room’
Under the best of circumstances, the commitments to household and children will be a difficult process. In addition, making visible and confronting a drug addict will be another stress factor that is difficult to handle. In a destructive existence, family members adapt to the chaotic family system. This is a self-defeating way of adapting to keep the peace in the house and to maintain the status quo. This is very comfortable for the addict who does not want the family system to change. Avoidance allows continued substance abuse and the negative consequences will persist.

Protecting the children and parents
If one of the parents is the drug addict, both parents will feel that they are protecting the children and avoid creating fear if the family secret is maintained. Unfortunately, this is not true. Children as young as 2-3 understand that something is wrong. “Mom and Dad are doing something wrong!”

Of course, teenagers want to know exactly what’s going on, but think it’s okay to abuse alcohol or drugs. “If the father can get high every day, so can I…” And in the same case, children and teenagers will also learn to keep their own secrets about what happens and what they do. They get a twisted relationship with alcohol and drugs, because they learn from their parents.

Avoid shame and embarrassment
Unfortunately, there is still a stigma around substance abuse. Secrets are therefore not shared with employers, friends, schools, and no one else gets to know what goes on behind closed doors. If they find out what is actually happening, the drug addict and his/her family will possibly feel ashamed of the drug addiction.

Lack of understanding
When a problem is kept secret, it is impossible to understand the negative impact. Addiction is known as a family disease since all members share in it. Lack of awareness that addiction is a family disease keeps families sick and deprives them of the opportunity to recognize the problem and seek help.

Secrets grow big in the dark, but DIE in the light

The terrible power drug addiction has in the lives of family members is allowed to continue to develop in silence! When you try to hide substance abuse (and other addictions), it will ONLY get worse. Silence allows the addiction to grow, but at the same time protects the addict from knowing and taking responsibility for their own consequences.

The “elephant in the room” syndrome

Denial occurs when everyone knows the addiction is there, but each member of the family tries to deny this presence. The secret is big anyway. It is so incredibly visible and dominant that the secret creates a feeling of “madness” in the family and the children’s reality is totally distorted.

A family affair!

Substance abuse is never limited to just the abuser – it’s a family affair. Since addiction has so many consequences, not only for the addict, but for the family, the family will become just as sick as the addict and will suffer their own consequences.

So what is the solution?

Being open by sharing your secrets is a healthy way to deal with the problem, which will help grow the family and strengthen each family member. Until the problem is recognized, there is no other way to recover from the problem. If you are a family with this problem, we encourage you to be honest with yourself, with the children and the other family members and all other support people. Once the truth comes to light, freedom from the poisonous secrets will set you free.

Do you still find it difficult to do something about the problem?