By: Roger Stark, KSL
The dangers of secondhand smoke have become well known and many in the community are pushing to protect children. But cigarette smokers, however, are not the only ones that compromise the health of their family with addictive behavior. Misusers of alcohol, drugs and those engaged in process addictions (sex, gambling, shopping) create emotional dysfunction that intrudes into the lives of those within the addict's sphere of influence and challenge their well-being.
While the addict may not be exposing others to a physical drug as the smoker does with nicotine, the intrusion remains real. It doesn't stop with just family but may compromise every personal, work and business relationship as well. Anyone interacting with the addict may experience, and may have to deal with, the emotional dysfunctions of secondhand addiction.
Lisa Frederiksen, nationally recognized authority and blogger at breakingthecycles.com
, speaking of alcohol, says it simply: “Chronic exposure to secondhand drinking causes serious emotional and physical health problems.”
The chronic exposure Frederiksen speaks of can be a brain changer. Being forced to maintain a constant emotional “on guard” status introduces neurotransmitters into our brain that can compromise physical and emotional health. Fredriksen points out that an individual cannot maintain a constant “flight or fight” emotional status without compromising well-being.
She cites this example
: “One young girl sobbed the pain of having her alcoholic father scream at her that very afternoon, yelling at her to 'shut (expletive) up!' when she tried to explain why the person giving her a ride to visit him could only stay two days and not the three he demanded. He'd ended the call telling her not to come at all, that he was done.”
“Between sobs, the young girl pleaded, 'How does a father do this? How can a father threaten to cut his daughter out of his life for something over which she has no control? And I know he'll do it, and I don't want that. I hate this ... He's been doing this my whole life. How does a father do this?”
These kind of personal interactions leave wounds. They are not superficial. While an individual struggles to cope emotionally, his or her immune system and other factors of physical well-being may be compromised as well.
Recovery for all
Discovering an addiction kept secret can add to the degree difficulty. Uncovering a hidden sexual addiction, for example, is often shocking and may destroy security and safety, two pillars of emotional and physical well-being. The suddenness of discovery often raises the level of trauma felt by spouses and other family members, which in turn complicates recovery and healing.
Addiction, whether a long-term problem or newly discovered, and irrespective of the form of the drug of choice, becomes a family disease. While recovery and healing are normally what would be required of the user addict, it also needs to become the path of innocent family members.
Dr. Tian Dayton
, clinical psychologist and author, lived it. “In the 1960s, when my dad got treatment, we all thought that once the alcoholic got sober, the rest of us in the family would sort of get better automatically. Normalcy would be restored and we could all go on with our lives as if addiction had never really been there.
“If you happen to think this, I will save you a lot of time and heartache. It's not true.”
Dayton's experience was much different than her expectation: “Living with addiction often results in cumulative trauma that deeply affects family members. When addicts are using they are, for all intents and purposes, out of their minds. The out of control and unpredictable nature of (their) behaviors can make family members feel helpless, enraged, and as if their sense of reality is being turned inside out and upside down. In short, it's traumatizing.”
Frederiksen shares this insight
: “I saw it again last night as I faced an audience of drug addicts and alcoholics in treatment and their family members, all of whom were present to hear my lecture. I saw the crushing emotional pain that surrounds this family disease on their faces, in their body language, in the way they did or did not look me in the eye or venture a tentative smile.
"For the addicts/alcoholics, it crossed the spectrum: shame, defeat, anger, embarrassment, defiance, sadness, regret, fear. For the family members, it crossed the spectrum: shame, defeat, anger, embarrassment, defiance, sadness, regret, fear."
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