Addiction is a Conflict
Addiction is a conflict in and of itself. Many people within our society and worldwide suffer from the affects of drug and alcohol addiction. There are many issues associated with addiction and many times it’s not only the victim that deals with the addiction, but also the people in close association with the individual. There are specific grievances that are caused by addiction that are hard to resolve because of the very personal aspect that addiction can bring to a family. Families can be seen as social support systems, however when a member is an addict this support system can be threatened and broken leading to disagreements and arguments. Many family dynamics change and evolve as children grow into young adulthood as it is, but when addiction is in the mix the entire environment in which younger individuals are in can be detrimental to their sense of self. When looking at young adult drug use it is often rooted in adolescence and often appears in conflict ridden homes and has the ability to start new conflicts and lead to a much bigger problem that is harder to resolve.
For this paper I will be discussing and looking at the conflict that occurs between family members and young adult drug users. I will first be looking at how family conflict leads to substance abuse. I particularly will be focusing on children and/or young adults who are addicted to drugs or alcohol and other family members who are not addicted and the conflicts that arises. In our society this subject seems to often get “common sense” explanations which fails to see the complexities that truly go into this conflict (Hildyard, 1999). The common sense explanations for this specific conflict are an insult to the individuals involved because it misses the full story which can make the conflict even more complex. This happens when people do not fully understand how encompassing addiction is on ones self and their families. The desired outcome of this conflict is to learn how to better navigate roles within a family so that grievances on either side can be heard. There is no common sense explanations for family conflicts and addiction so for this topic there is a deep need to delve below the surface and actually see the complications of the conflict because it deserves understanding.
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Family is supposed to be a safe support system for its members, however when drug addiction affects a member more intense conflict can occur because of use. When a family already argues and young adults live in conflict ridden homes the risk of participating in risky behavior increases. Once drugs make there way into a family there are established patterns of conflict within these structures that are often stressful, frustrating and non-productive which leaves the family feeling insecure and unable to communicate (Horigan, Feaster, Robbins, Brincks, Ucha, Rohrbaugh, and Szapocznik, 2015). This inability to communicate effectively can negatively affect how a child grows into young adulthood. Exposure to a peer group that tolerates or encourages drug abuse, an individuals “educational opportunities, the presence of drugs in their home, the beliefs and attitudes, and the family’s use of drugs are factors in the first use of drugs for most people, and whether that use escalates into addiction” (Selbekk, Sagvaag, & Fauske, 2015) these circumstances need to be explained and throughly focused on when examining drug use and how it affects an addict and who they are closely associated with. These factors need to be taken into consideration when looking at an addicted individual and their family because they can all be reasons why conflict escalates or deescalates.
Drug and alcohol abuse affects different family structures in different ways because environment influences behavior. When young adults are in an environment where they do not feel safe or welcomed, they are more at risk for developing a drug addiction (Best, Wilson, MacLean, Savic, Reed, Bruun & Lubman, 2014) because they seek these quintessential needs somewhere else. When young adults have vigilant friends and family that can model positive behaviors this risk decreases. Surroundings and setting have more to do with behaviors and attitudes than we like to think, conflict can occur just based on environmental needs based in a family. At the core this generalized conflict tends to occur in these familial relationships surrounding addiction because many times the addicts agenda does not coincide with that of the family’s and this causes turmoil and unresolved issues (Family Drug Support, 2019).
In general terms family conflict occurs for a myriad of reasons. When addiction is added to the mix, even more conflict can arise between members. There seems to be a dominant and subordinate relationship between users and their families which creates this good versus evil mentality in many families dynamics (Best, Wilson, MacLean, Savic, Reed, Bruun & Lubman, 2014). At a surface level the family is often seen as good, especially when they are adamant on getting their young family member help. The addict is criminalized and seen as bad or evil because they are seen as the cause of the problem and overall addiction that has created this tumultuous time. When looking at family conflict through addiction we can acknowledge that “there is the battle to recognize and provide agency to a neglected group, the affected family members, while on the other there is the battle to advocate for the addict” (Selbekk, Sagvaag, & Fauske, 2015) which creates this push and pull between the main parties of the conflict. The main triggering event in this generalized conflict is surrounded by the addict using in the first place and slowly builds with the young adult addict not aligning themselves with what their family wants or needs from them.
Often times family’s try to be understanding at first and they can try to get their family member help, they ackowedlge how young adults may not always make the best decisions and understand that they made bad choices. The family often times lacks acknowledging their part in their family members addiction (Selbekk, et al., 2015). When family does reach out and try to help it is often not wanted and the addict feels bombarded and attacked. This is where even more conflict occurs because disputes begin to take place on both sides. Most often family’s believe that they must take more action and get the addict in treatment so their own personal grievances have a chance of being resolved. Interventions occur where leaders, usually the family as a whole, are able to mobilize together and garner attention needed to their problem. Often times this is in the form of mediations where families of addicts frame their messages and explain why they want them to resolve their issue of addiction so that they can be a family again. However, many times families neglect to acknowledge their own wrong doings and place complete blame on the addict. This is not to say that it is a families fault, but usually there are many more issues that have to deal with external factors including the family that need to be addressed. This places continues and ongoing blame on the addict which causes feelings of guilt, anguish and revenge on the the addicts part (Cliffside Malibu, 2018). Addicts are given ultimatums either to get clean or to no longer be in contact with their family. This often creates even more tumultuous conflict because the addict is now angry and threatened, which has the possibility of the conflict being escalated to a new high. This is unique because this conflict can be in a constant rollercoaster motion where some days are better than others and the conflict can be at bay, but it always has the chance to stir up again.
Often times there are early windows of opportunity for both parties involved in this conflict to help each other. Young adults often show early signs of drug use that families miss and families can often take the wrong approach to dealing with the early warning signs. If these windows were taken up on and the right form of communication occurred this addiction may not have happened. This is not matter of fact because everything could have been perfect and somebody may still become an addict. These windows are short lived because either a person gets addicted or the family does not communicate in a way that hears and listens to either side. De-escalation often does not happen until a third party is involved or the addict stops using. This is usually in participating with a treatment program, intervention or a mediator. This is what this conflict can be so large and encompassing that there is not one way to deescalate or solve completely. Either party involved in the conflict may never fully feel heard or their grievances resolved, but de-escalation does occur in the form of treatment and other resources that the family and the addict come to on their own behalf (SAMHSA, 2018).
There are many lessons that can be learned from the research I have done. This is a broad subject because addiction conflict can affect a family differently. There are many factors that go into young adults getting addicted and there are far more reasons why families deal with this conflict differently. There are genetic reasons, family structure, social status and even more to list. However, we have to understand that this is a generalized conflict and look at it from a new perspective. From a sociological point of view we can only understand and correct addiction conflict within the context of the groups in which it occurs, which in this case is the family. When we look at this in the midst of the society today, “social policies mirror these different views with strategies ranging from prohibition and criminalization to hospitalization and mandated treatment” (Diclemente, 2003). In our country and society today drug use and addiction are very prevalent issues and there is still not end all be all answer to these ongoing conflicts. I learned through this generalized conflict that approaching any disagreements can be tricky and it can be even more trickier when people feel as if they are not being taken seriously or they do not feel heard. Particularly with families that deal with drug addiction empathy and compassion needs to be used to delve into the grievances that either side feel.
According to Horrigan, Feaster, Robbins, Brincks, Ucha, Rohrbaugh, Szapocznik
(2015) a beneficial way to resolve these types of conflicts is through family therapy. This study found that treatment and family therapy created significant differences in behaviors of addicts and the functioning of their families. Usually family members attend treatment as well for their own issues that have occurred because of a family member using. Treatment methods that include “family members are, in general, shown to be effective, but represent a variety of objectives” (Selbekk, Sagvaag, & Fauske, 2015). Family will become more aware of their own needs and feel that they can express their needs safely in therapy type settings. Families become aware of their own needs in therapy and it can provide genuine healing for them. According to the “Substance Abuse Treatment and Family Therapy” guide, family therapy is a good resource for recovery for family members with drug and alcohol addictions. Young adults and children also really benefit by attending family therapy groups because “it is important to create a safe environment in which they can discuss family violence, abuse, and neglect” (SAMHSA, 2018) which are underlying grievances that these individuals may have. Family’s strengths and resources can help find ways to live without alcohol and drug addiction. Sometimes family therapy involves mediation and intervention, but is agreed upon with a third party so that conflict between the other two does not occur.
Mediation and mediators are there for the benefit of both parties, to hear each one equally and allow for people to feel heard in hopes that there needs will be met. Relationships are often destroyed and families are torn apart as the addict tries to escape from any strife they may face by turning to drugs and running away from responsibilities in these sessions. As we learned this quarter “conflict management process whereby a person or group, typically an outsider, intervenes in a conflict to help the adversaries to negotiate an agreement themselves or to take other joint de-escalating measures” (Kriesberg & Dayton: 217) is exactly what helps many families going through this exact conflict management process. When someone can resolve conflicts, they can maintain healthy personal and professional relationships. However, without this skill (usually completely lost in an addicted lifestyle) life becomes a mess of unresolved problems and disagreements (Horrigan, et al., 2015). These problems and disagreements often lead to conflicts which do escalate. This can be because the addicted family member does not feel as if they are able to make their own decisions and that they are being taken advantage of by their family.
According to Fisher, Neale, Bloor and Jenkins (2008) “involving drug users in making treatment decisions will create tensions, disagreements and even outright conflict between clients and staff”, which shows that even though addicts want to be involved in their treatment or decision making it causes more conflict than before. Goals of resolving the conflict need to be individualized and focused mainly on the drug addicted family member so that their healing can in turn help the families healing. This is so the family’s ideas of what should happen is reduced and focused on what is possible. This can lead to the opportunity of including the family’s perspective “which could facilitate the healing process for the family as a whole” (SAMHSA, 2018). Treatment decisions, mediations and therapy are all proven ways to help deescalate conflict between parties and provides resources for solving this often times ongoing pattern.
Overall, meeting the challenge of working together will call for mutual understanding, flexibility, and adjustments. When a person is caught up in substance abuse, conflict is mismanaged (if it is managed at all) and causes great harm to relationships, workplace skills and living a happy life. Each individual within a conflict needs to see all the sides of a conflict rather than just pointing out someone as the perpetrator. Empathy and compassion are ways to rebuild issues between differing groups, “allowing for sympathy and empathy for each other’s experiences to build commonality and trust between parties, ultimately influencing the desire to help each other rather than harm each other” (Kriesberg & Dayton:181) is exactly what is needed in these types of conflict. I think that these are the most effective ways to fight dehumanization and de-individualism of the addict and can also help the family members associated with the addict because they personally deal with these issues on a daily basis and need their grievances resolved so that the conflict can be somewhat resolved.