When a Loved One Has an Addiction

Jesse Hanson describes the challenges of helping a loved one who is battling an addiction and how it impacts the entire family system. Watch the video or read the transcript below.

What does a person do when they’re pretty confident that a loved one is stuck in a destructive behaviour pattern? I think the number one thing that needs to happen first is compassion. Starting to realize that whatever this destructive behaviour pattern is, whether its around sex, drugs, alcohol, shopping, whatever it is, that that behaviour pattern is a symptom of pain.

Coming down on a person really hard or coming at a person really aggressively who is already in pain, normally doesn’t go over very well. To have that compassion in your heart when you approach them is a really important part.

The other part is to be aware that their behaviour is a symptom of pain. Because of that, trying to speak through the judgements that we might hold ourselves about what they’re doing and speak to the part of that person who’s in pain can help them feel reached because the bottom line is, even if a person that you love is forced to go to treatment, the chances are it’s not going to work out that well because they have to want it for themselves.

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A loved one has to help the person who’s hurting realize their opportunity to change their life is for them. The family system plays an important role in addiction because very rarely is the person who’s been identified as the addict or the alcoholic or the abuser, very rarely is that person really the only issue in the family system. Often times that person is taking on responsibilities that aren’t being carried out by other family members or that person is feeling controlled by other family members and this is their way of trying to get control back.

When we incorporate the lens of neuroscience into family systems as it pertains to addiction, there is no doubt in the evidence that’s out there that all the brains in the family need to be rewired, it’s not just the identified patient. Every single person needs to show up for the process in a way that they’re open-minded and open hearted, that things need to change for everyone in the system.

There’s also a lot of evidence that shows how much the brain activity of each person in the family effects and influences the brain activity in the other members of the family, whether that’s the identified person who’s addicted or whether it’s mom, dad or whatever role the person has.

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Modern science is showing us about cellular memory and what’s called right-hemispheric transference. That’s when the right hemisphere of the brain connects to the other right hemisphere, which has all to do with emotions, it is beyond thought, it is communicated without language.

What our recent science is showing us is that if people in the family are all caught into a certain emotional pattern there is often the case where one person will hold all of it and fall into destructive patterns that can definitely involve alcohol, substances, sex, over shopping, a number of different ways of carrying the heaviness of the family.

At Helix Healthcare Group, we are very enthusiastic about incorporating the whole family into the treatment because that’s where we see we get the long lasting results and it also gives the whole family the opportunity to grow and learn and understand about healthy family dynamics.


If you need help reaching out to a loved one suffering from an addiction, please call 416.921.CARE (2273) or send us a message.

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