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Addictive Behaviors in Adults and The Effects on Families

Updated on April 5, 2013

An Addictive Personality?

Let me start off by stating that I am not an addict. However, I had addictive tendancies when I was younger, in my teen years and through college. At that time I felt it was important for me to find a way to fit in. Drinking and using drugs seemed like the only way because all of the popular people used alcohol and drugs. However, I realized after a short time the using and abusing lifestyle was not my cup of tea. After several brush ins with law enforcement, friends advancing (probably not the best term to use) to harder drugs like heroin and my family members becoming irate, confused, and disappointed with my behaviors, I decided to slow down. Thankfully my maturity level in regards to addiction was high, however college was a different story. I turned to what is natural to college students, alcohol. I drank at least 5 days per week, passed my classes with good grades and had a blast but I also engaged in very risky behaviors. I wouldn’t change anything I did because it helped shape and mold me into who I am today. It also led me to the career I’ve been in now for about 7 years working with addicted people in a correctional setting. I started out as a substance abuse counselor within Illinois and Indiana prisons, moved into community corrections as a probation officer and now I am a supervisor for a private company providing services to addicted individuals in a correctional setting.


What is Addiction

I could tell many stories of the mishaps of my abusing drugs and alcohol as a teenager but I will save that for another day. I want to focus my attention for this article on the dark and ugly side of addiction. I want to focus on the types of behaviors addicts exhibit towards others, especially family members and friends. And unfortunately it’s always family members, spouses, and friends that suffer the most due to the irresponsible, impulsive behaviors addicts display. An addict's maturity level, for a lack of a better word, becomes stunted due to frequent and progressive drug and/or alcohol abuse. I use the term addict in this article loosely to describe a person with addictive behaviors. An addict in the counseling world is anyone that seeks drugs and/or alcohol to feel normal accompanied by an overwhelming sensation to use more, more often in order to maintain the high. Abusing drugs/alcohol essentially helps the addicted feel normal.

It seems like in the counseling field the most viable explanation for an addict’s behaviors is because addiction is a disease. To me that means it’s incurable, treatable at best and I believe that each person needs to make that determination. Once a person is labeled an addict, it seems like that term is permanently branded on their forehead and it’s something that they must be burdened with for the rest of their life. For some that is the case indeed, however for others it could be mental health issues that cause problems with addiction. Yet for others it could be something that was started as experimentation and after they’ve traveled down the dark, lonely road of abusing drugs and alcohol they’ve seen that it isn’t for them at all and so the change process begins. As a Christian I believe anyone can be freed and totally healed from the restraints of addiction but that is for another day.


Addictive Behaviors- Cognitive Disability, Disengagement

Let’s take a look into how a mind is stunted when the cycle of addiction begins. Research shows that cognitive and emotional functioning are slowed down at the time of frequent abuse of drugs or alcohol. Essentially, if a teenage boy begins abusing drugs or alcohol and continues through his teens and then stops at twenty, his emotional and cognitive abilities will still be stuck at around the same age the abuse started. That’s why many people have trouble understanding why addicts have such great difficulty living life on life’s terms. He/she have not developed the same coping skills and mechanisms that the average teenager will develop during that same time period. It can typically take years of counseling before an addict can fully recover, develop adequate life coping skills and effective communication skills.

Looking into the actual behaviors of addicts we see some common denominators. First, a person exploring drugs and/or alcohol will typically pull away from positive support networks and follow people that align with the using lifestyle. Average people work at a job or attend school, come home to be with their family, go to bed at a decent time and wake up to do it all over again. Addicts, however seek a high constantly and so they chase it 24 hours a day, 7 seven days a week. This leads to lost jobs, family responsibilities put on hold, even eating consistently is placed second to the almighty high. This type of behavior can create major issues in families especially if the addict is married with children because the spouse will notice the addict coming home extremely late, sometimes not at all for days. He/she will be disengaged from the rest of the family seeming distant. The addict may exhibit aggressive behaviors towards family members who confront the addicts troubling behaviors.


The addict will most likely have more negative contact with law enforcement and the criminal justice system. An alcoholic may get caught driving drunk which now places him/her with the system which becomes very expensive when including attorney fees, court costs, fines, and other fees associated with a conviction. This takes a toll on a family’s finances very quickly. The addict may blow off the conviction as if he/she is the victim but more than likely that’s not the case. Unfortunately, many family members fall prey to an addict’s victim stance and give in to what the family believes is help when in actuality it’s enabling the negative behaviors. The impact enabling has on a family is incredibly tense because family members know if they don’t give in to the addict’s demands, he/she could engage in potentially deadly behaviors that places everyone at significant risk.

Typically an addict will also side step responsibilities. This can include anything from losing jobs to not paying the mortgage and putting food on the table. These behaviors occur because the addict is seeking their high and often use finances allocated to paying bills and taking care of the family’s needs. Most logical thinking is suspended until recovery begins.


Addictive Behaviors Reviewed

Addictive Behaviors
-Irresponsible, Impulsive behaviors
-Involvement with the criminal justice system
-Constant lying
-Staying out with friends for days at a time without explanation
-More irritable attitudes, mood swings
-Missing valuables, money

Addictive Behaviors- Lying and Stealing

Addicts will also lie constantly and will do so to everyone they talk to. This could be because he/she is shameful for their lifestyle and want to portray a Mother Theresa image or he/she is trying to cover up other behaviors which if discovered could result in serious repercussions. When I first started in the field of addiction counseling I was asked a question. How do you know when an addict is lying? The answer is whenever their gums are flapping. Unfortunately, this holds true until he/she is able to stop using and get help.

The effects of addicts lying, ducking responsibilities, justice system consequences and having a healthy dose of enablers can cause extensive damage to marriages and relationships. Damage that often times take many years of counseling to overcome. The pain and hurt can be deep for the victims of an addict’s impulsive, irresponsible behavior and broken families are common. If there is reconciliation to be made it is often a long painful road for both the victims and the addict. Stealing also accompanies lying often times and family members will eventually notice that valuables are coming up missing. The addict will find any means necessary to pursue their high and that can include stealing from their own family members!

There is Help for Addicts

The good news is that there is help available to those that want it. Notice I said want and not need. All addicts need help but counselors and therapists can only help those that want help. Check out some local counseling agencies or contact your local church or police department for assistance. If you’re the victim reading this article, there is help available to you as well. There are typically support groups in your area that will connect you with others experiencing what you are experiencing and can offer help. All you have to do is reach out to local churches or community non- profit agencies and ask for a list of places to contact. It’s important for you as the victim to understand what is going on inside the mind of your loved one while in their addiction and please do not ever give up! What I mean by that is don’t write off your loved one because of this sickness because it could drive him/her into greater depths of the madness. If you need to separate yourself from their chaos in hopes they will seek help, that’s fine but do your best to make reconciliation once recovery begins.

The Only True Cure for Addiction

Since I believe we live in a fallen, sinful world, it’s not surprising that many people are led astray into addictive behavior. There is a cure and it’s the only thing that can truly change you from the inside out providing permanent healing and peace and that is accepting Jesus Christas your savior. By doing this Christ will cleanse your heart from every sin you’ve ever committed, every sin. Christ came to earth to live with us and die with the burden of the world’s sins on his shoulders so that our relationship with God could be restored. Because everyone is sinful, we are separated from God because he is holy and perfect. Jesus bridges that gap and gives us true transformation from all sins and allows us to come boldly to the throne of God in relationship! Remember, true transformation starts on the inside.

If this article was beneficial, check out my other ones on Stress Management, Anger, and Relapse Prevention Plans.


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