Breaking the Cycle: 3 Components of Addiction in the Family

Prior to moving into private practice therapy, I worked in addiction treatment for a good portion of my career. When I introduced myself to people, and discussed what I did professionally, they often disclosed that either they, their family member, or a close friend dealt with addiction. Addiction impacts the individual in a profound way, which we will review in this article. However, for one individual affected by this disease, there are several others around them who are being impacted. The good news is that people and families recover. The first step in change is identification and acknowledgement. See if you can picture yourself or your family in the following writing.

The ripple effect of addiction, can be seen over multiple generations. You may be walking around with intergenerational effects of someone else’s addiction and not be aware. Not all addictive tendencies express themselves through substance abuse. Often addiction starts with an abusable and/or pleasurable substance or behavior. However, even long after the substance is removed it can continue to plague the individual and family. As they say in the rooms of recovery “once you are a pickle, you can’t go back to being a cucumber”. This article is all about how addiction presents within the family system.

Addiction is commonly referred to as a disease. I think of it more like a parasite that attaches to its host. It begins to influence and change the person’s thoughts and behaviors. Addiction even begins to influence and change the people around it. It seeps into the family system, one secret, one lie, and one thought at a time. Addiction is described by some, as having three parts: a mental obsession, physical compulsion, and spiritual bankruptcy. The addicted person’s obsession and compulsion is the substance and ways to get the substance. The family member’s (spouse, parent, sibling, or child) obsession and compulsion is often times the addict/alcoholic and ways to get (control) them. At that point, addiction has spread to all of the members of the home, not just the substance abuser.

The mental obsession for most addicts, can be traced back to early years with hockey cards, dating, or drawing marijuana leaves on their agendas. The mental preoccupation for individuals prone to addiction, starts slow at first. As it progresses it becomes an all-consuming fixation on the substance. How can I get it? When can I use it? I’ll stop tomorrow. This will be my last time.

The same symptom occurs to the person affected by someone else’s addiction. They become preoccupied with the addicted individual. Where are they going? Will they be safe? When will they be home? There are often games played and scores kept, in order to control their loved one. Have you ever thought any of those thoughts about your loved one? Do you believe that you can control another person’s behavior?

The mental obsession is fueled by a physical compulsion. Compulsion is described as the feeling of anxiety, despair, and dread to get the substance. It is the itch that you must scratch. The brain begins to believe that “I will not be OK unless I have it”. The same belief takes place in the family member. I have heard countless stories of children waiting on the steps for their alcoholic father to come home, mothers with sleepless nights, and spouse’s not feeling okay until they know he or she is alright. The compulsion is like unrestful music playing in the background and not allowing the person to ever let go or surrender. Do you feel anxious? Do you only feel relieved as a result of someone else’s behavior?

Spiritual bankruptcy can be defined as a life without direction, purpose, or meaning. The overall feeling is one of emptiness. What once brought the person joy; like hobbies, sports, dance, friends and family, are all replaced with confusion, chaos and broken the promises of addiction. Some would call it a secondhand life. A person who gets lost in someone else’s addiction, begins to lose their identity and direction in life, they forget about their own needs, passions, and goals, stop taking care of themselves, and begin to live their own secondhand life. They are left feeling resentful, exhausted, and powerless. Do you feel aimless? Do you feel like you are constantly caring for others?

The reason we review these 3 components to addiction in the family is that acknowledging these patters can be the first step of changing them. Additionally, to determine the intergenerational impact of addiction. Is someone’s past addiction impacting how you think in current relationships? Maybe this pattern of thinking and feeling influences the partners you choose? Are you dealing with difficult relationship patterns and struggles? When we make a change in the present, it doesn’t change the past, but it does change the way our past influences our future.

So, what’s next? Try tapping into your resources; friends, family, a counselor. Addiction grows stronger in a closed system; break the silence, tell someone and get some feedback. Utilize some of your self-care techniques again, put your needs first sometimes, and set healthy boundaries. Ask yourself “if I was not thinking about them, what would I be thinking about or what would I be doing? Try out an Al-Anon meeting, support group or seek out professional help. It is very common for family members to seek out the support of a therapist as a result of someone’s addiction. Small steps lead to big changes and above all, remember that there is hope!

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Well-Being Means More Than Just Exercise

Here’s an unpleasant truth: You could run and lift weights until you had the figure of your dreams, and it still wouldn’t make you healthy.

You may be wondering why that is, and the answer is simple: Well-being is as much a matter of the mind as it is the body, so there’s no reason you should focus on one while ignoring the other. In fact, a truly effective fitness routine should also contain activities that address your emotions and intellect if you’re really looking to become an overall healthier person.

That’s what self-care is all about. If you’ve never researched the term before, it refers to

practices that help improve your life from the inside out, and exercise is important to that endeavour. But there’s much more to it than that, such as …

Designing Your Own Workout Space

While exercising can make you feel better physically and mentally, creating your own gym at home can further enhance your overall health. Imagine that you have the ability to work out

whenever you feel like it without wasting time getting to the gym, or that you can hop on the

treadmill without having to wait to use it. A home gym offers more convenience and can make

you feel more motivated than going to the gym, resulting in consistency with workouts. Pick a

space in your home, and before you buy any equipment, look into hiring a handyman to install

things you shouldn’t do on your own, like electrical outlets, a ceiling fan, updated flooring, and a

pull-up bar. This service can cost between $214 and $766 in Buffalo, NY.

Planning Your Meals

Just grabbing whatever’s convenient is not only a one-way road to a larger waistline, but also a

frazzled mind. It turns out that a healthy diet helps to relieve stress, but that means putting some

effort into cooking meals at home that are high in nutrients and low in sugar and fat. Research

some recipes and create a meal plan, keeping it simple to save time and energy. If you’re just

too busy to shop for and create your own gourmet recipes, find a meal delivery service in your

area, and select its light and healthy option. These meals can run as cheap as $6.99 a person.

Pursuing Mindfulness

This refers to focusing your attention on what you’re doing in the present as well as the thoughts and sensations running through your brain and body, which you accept and let pass nonjudgmentally. The therapeutic benefits of mindfulness, a fundamental component of meditating, include reducing stress and achieving a state of calm. Build this practice into your life.

Going Outdoors

That doesn’t mean you have to drive off to Yellowstone and spend a few weeks sleeping out in the woods. It’s more about putting nature back in your life however you can because, quite frankly, you need it. Spending just 15 minutes under the sun jump starts production of vitamin D, which is vital to mental health, whereas a short walk in the park improves concentration.

Expanding Your Mind

Reading is one way to do this. As anyone would tell you, books make you smarter by teaching you about the world and adding new words to your vocabulary. That, in turn, makes you a better speaker, which could help you out professionally and socially. Your ability to concentrate will also improve, making your job a lot easier, no matter what you do.

Having an Active Social Life

Hanging out with your friends engages the endogenous opioid system in your brain, according to a writer with Fader, which in layman’s terms means that you feel good ... really good. Over the long haul, that can lead to a longer and healthier life, while in the short term, it makes you feel more positive.

Finding Pleasure

That simple walk in the park can put you in touch with profound aesthetic beauty that you never noticed before, and it comes from nothing more than flowers, trees, birds and butterflies. Take it in for a daily dose of inspiration and joy.

Setting Goals

Write them down on a piece of paper so you can see exactly what you’re striving for in life rather than wandering around lost, wondering what to do. Clear targets give you focus, says a writer with Code of Living, while also allowing you to measure progress and, perhaps best of all, giving you motivation.

Helping Others

Helping others is just as good for you as it is for them. There’s no underestimating the value of volunteering for the community, but you’ll get plenty out of the experience as well, and that includes a sense of purpose as well as some new life experiences and enriching friendships.

Follow this advice, and you’ll be healthier, stronger and feeling better all around. When you look in the mirror, you’ll love the person looking back, and not just because they’re in great physical shape.

Image via Pexels.


Written by Sheila Olson


Meet the Therapists

Rebecca is a therapist at Core MHC who enjoys working with people facing challenges ranging from illness to anxiety to trauma. She is trained in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), which helps people feel more in control of their emotions and lives. Rebecca has several years of experience working with people with disabilities and chronic health conditions. She also draws on her own personal experience with a chronic illness to help treat individuals in similar situations. “I know on a personal level the immense challenges that can come with an illness, and also the opportunities for growth and positive transformation” she says. As a certified Reiki Master, Rebecca also uses this ancient Japanese healing technique to help clients decrease stress and feel more centered. For those who are interested, she can apply a few minutes of Reiki at the beginning or end of therapy sessions, or teach clients how to use it as a self-care tool. Check out her availability in the “Book Now” section to schedule your first appointment.


Meet the Therapists

Nicole is the founder of Core Mental Health Counseling, PLLC. She has experience counseling in the Buffalo area for several years before starting private practice. She enjoys working with clients with PTSD or difficult past experiences. She has been trained in progressive counting and EMDR which are both trauma resolution models. “This helps up to have direction and goals for treatment so we can best measure client progress, " says Nicole. Most recently she as been asked to participate in PAX Crisis Response interventions, when schools in the area have had significant loss. She meets with teachers and staff to best support them in being there for their students while also focusing on their own self care during traumatic events. Nicole truly enjoys what she does and is happy to be able to make this her full time career. Check out her availability in the “book now” section to schedule your first appointment.


Meet the therapists

A safe and comfortable space

As I think about what prevents people from taking that first step in therapy, I try to put myself in their place. Sometimes it can be stress or anxiety related to “what should I expect?” Here’s a small picture of a waiting area outside one of our therapy offices. Make yourself comfortable while you wait for your family member, spouse or any loved one. Sometimes the therapist will ask for your permission to invite someone into therapy. This choice is yours, but it can sometimes help with the bigger picture. Each person is unique and we are here to make you thrive!


A comfortable space

A safe place

Mindfulness Group

We are looking to start our mindfulness group again September 24th at 6pm! It is held at our office at 374 Delaware Avenue.  Let us know if you are interested!  It will run Monday evenings 6-7 pm with Angela Docenko, MHC-P.  Call us with any questions and to sign up!  The group entails practicing and learning about mindfulness with like-minded individuals.  We have received many inquiries about this group and have tried to get to everyone, if we missed you please fill out your contact information on our client portal to get started! Looking forward to starting this journey with you!  



Don't let the summer end!

Five habits to improve your life

#1. Tidying up

Although this might sound self-explanatory, this one is one that gets by me quite often.  Especially with a baby at home, tidying up seems like a grave challenge on some days. However, this is one of the simplest ways to improve your life.  

How do you think and feel when things around your house are out of place?

How much easier would leaving in the morning be, with knowing where everything is?  

I have to take my own advice on this one, cleaning up the junk drawer, which is now a junk pile, will make life so much better! Even this Seville Classics 5 piece drawer set would be a good start! If I find something like this to motivate me, then just maybe…

*Update: I bought three of the drawer organizers above! It changed my life, or at least my morning routine!

#2. Cutting out sugar

This is a hard one, for me! Chocolate is one of my obsessions. It is so hard to eat healthy sometimes when you can much easier get something with sugar.  It even gives you a little pick me up too right? Wrong! Long term effects of sugar will keep you up for a short time, but long term cause you to crash. There are so many benefits to this one, guess I have to just keep working on it!

*Update I just completed a 40 days yoga challenge and have more control over my appetite! I don’t feel like sugar is controlling my life and this makes my mood a lot more balanced!

#3. Exercise

My favorite classes are Barre Classes.  Have you heard about them? There are several different types of exercise, but even just walking is a great start.  Get out there, Buffalo!

#4. The Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;  courage to change the things I can;  and wisdom to know the difference."

#5. Rebuild your brain

This is what we are going to use Counseling for! Have you heard of EMDR (Eye movement desensitization and Reprocessing)?  Our trauma from the past gets stuck in our mind and has trouble shifting. When we are able to access the Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) parts of our brain we can rewire ourselves to connect with the healthier way we function.  More on this later!


The Benefits of Drinking Warm Lemon Water

It’s finally starting to warm up, what are you doing to stay healthy?

Drinking warm lemon water is one of the biggest health food trends right now, with celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, Beyoncé and Martha Stewart swearing by it.

Naturopaths especially are touting it as a highly effective habit and home remedy for a number of reasons. This drink is credited for weight loss, anti-aging properties, fighting the common cold, eye health, treating kidney stones, digestion, and improvements in blood pressure, among other things.

My absolute favorite is Evian water, which I buy from Amazon in bulk!