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Addiction and Mental Illness in the Family: 5 Guiding Principles for Reclaiming Hope

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Family connections are usually our closest relationships in life and have the greatest impact on our well-being. When a family member suffers from the disease of addiction or mental illness – everyone in that family suffers. Our thoughts can quickly become consumed with worry and anxiety due to both the illness and the challenges our loved one imposes on the family.

Although each family has its unique situation and challenges, we all desire to live reasonably happy lives while ensuring the health, emotional wholeness, and success of our conflicted loved ones.

I have spent decades digging my way out of the long-term effects of being raised in a home with alcoholism and mental illness. Feelings of isolation, guilt, sadness, and even resentment can sporadically engulf our being as all of our attempts to manage our life, and the life of others in our family, seem virtually impossible. Suffering in silence leads to feelings of hopelessness and despair. Expectations bring on more disappointment despite secretly longing for a positive change. I have known these feelings all too well and have been trapped in what seemed like a never-ending cycle of defeat. Yet, despite all that, I am here to tell you that there is always hope. As far away as hope may seem, it is always available and waiting for us to invite it back into our lives.

In my own recovery resulting from these family dynamics, I have found that implementing the five foundational guiding principles outlined below has given me a new lease on life. As my perspective, reactions, and understanding began to change, daily life became more balanced, and inner peace began to replace the constant anxiety that I always carried. A book could be written on each of these topics. For simplicity, I will briefly address each one, leaving deeper explanations for another time.


Knowledge is power. The more we can learn about the inner workings of our loved one’s illness, the more understanding we will have when observing or being subject to their triggers, relapses, and emotional outbursts. It is easy to take painful verbal exchanges personally. However, when dealing with any type of illness, it is usually not personal at all. In and of itself, knowledge will not change the other person, but it will help us develop a deeper level of compassion, patience, and tolerance.


Seeking out support groups specific to our family situation creates a tremendous sense of community as we begin to realize, maybe for the first time, that we are not alone. Genuine understanding by those who can identify with our struggles can be an integral part of our recovery. This fellowship gives us a level of encouragement and nurturing that is desperately needed to heal. Of course, one-on-one therapy can also benefit our personal growth, health, and overall success.


Honesty is essential for any positive change to occur. Many times we protect ourselves in denial because the painful truth is just too much to bear. I get it. Nothing in my family was open and honest. We hid everything, mainly due to shame, and if an outside family member or friend discovered what I call our family’s ‘dirty little secrets,’ we lied about it. We must muster up the courage to take an honest look at what works and what doesn’t, including behaviors that we may need to change and take responsibility for. Taking an honest look at our own, possibly flawed, perceptions, behaviors, and responses will be an essential part of ensuring a favorable outcome.

As we go through these points, you can see that they gradually become more and more challenging. That’s okay, don’t let it scare you away. Change is scary. It will be new, unfamiliar, and require a certain amount of trust and courage. That said, it will also lead you to the light at the end of the tunnel, called hope.


Boundaries are critical as we begin to detangle from the codependent behaviors we have grown accustomed to. We get so wrapped up in wanting to help that we minimize damage, try to control our loved one, and feel guilty when it doesn’t work. What appears to be sound reasoning on our part can quickly transform into fear-based decision-making. We swallow our emotions, are afraid to speak our truth for fear of upsetting things further, and before we know it, our health is compromised. It’s a lose-lose for everyone involved. We need to think about sustainability and start to create useful and appropriate boundaries based on our newly found knowledge and what we have learned through our support system. Creating boundaries that we can stand behind will establish us in a more balanced and even-tempered day-to-day life. A crisis or a challenge can arise at any time. If that happens, our boundaries and predetermined plans will guide us through in a more composed and purposeful way.


Self-care will keep us in the game for the long haul. When we find ourselves enmeshed in the care and control of our loved one, we end up last on the list of caring for ourselves. That’s assuming we even make the list! Self-care will look different for each individual. It’s personal. For me, self-care is reviewing my boundaries and making sure that I am still able to follow through as intended. It means making time, even if it is just ten minutes a day, for quiet reflection and prayer, and finally, it means making healthy food choices each day. For another person, self-care may be journaling or making time for exercise. There is no right or wrong way to do it, as long as you do something. As indulgent as this may seem at first, it will be an integral part of creating lasting change for our overall health and happiness.

In sharing a few of my experiences with you today, I hope you will be encouraged and find your pathway to renewed hope and peace. Remember, hope is always there. We just need to figure out how to reclaim it.

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

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About The Author: Lisa Chirillo was raised in a family that suffered the effects of alcoholism and mental illness. What she didn’t realize was that her painful and sometimes challenging journey back to wholeness would one day lead to renewed strength and hope that could be used to empower others. She has since launched a blog with a simple goal in mind, to bring a message of hope and encouragement to family and friends of those impacted by a loved one’s addiction, alcoholism, or mental illness. She lives in Shelton, CT.

Please visit her recovery website at https://familyrecoveryhope.com/

Photo by Hian Oliveira on Unsplash

The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios only.

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