Family Members Get Sucked into the Black Hole of the Addict

I’ve been looking for a well-written article like this for a long time. Claudia Black crafts with her words what we clinicians see so often. While family members may be critical of the addict’s disruptions to the family, those co-dependent family members eventually begin to exhibit many of the same patterns they criticize. They get sucked in. They are not exempt. They need to take a look at their need for counseling as a family unit as well as the individual addict needs recovery treatment as an individual. Click on Claudia’s picture for her background and professional associations. Also, note that I’ve added a new link to Recovery Today Online for future quick reference. Take a moment to read Dr. Black’s article:

Recognizing Family Recovery
by Claudia Black, PhD, MSW

What do you mean I need recovery, too?

What does that look like?

Claudia BlackThe impact of addiction in the family is often thought of as the consequences of the addicted person’s behavior directed toward the family member, such as hurt feelings for being yelled at, embarrassment for a scene at an event, or the confusion generated from blatant lying. The greater impact is the resulting long-term shift in the family member’s behavior, thinking and emotions, which is a systematic response to living with the chaos, pain and unpredictability of addiction. Ironically, this change in the family member’s behavior parallels the behaviors, thoughts and emotions of the addicted person.

The following, excerpted from the recently published Family Strategies: Practical Tools for Professionals Treating Families Impacted by Addiction by Claudia Black, PhD, MSW, offers a way to aid family members in recognizing the addictive aspect of codependency. In doing so, it also assists them in identifying issues from which to recover.

Reviewing the symptoms of addiction and examples for both the addicted person and codependent, the reader is encouraged to utilize this article as a self-help tool by giving thought to his or her personal examples of codependent behaviors.


The addict has a repetitive focus on behaviors connected to his/her acting out behavior.
The codependent experiences the inability to focus on other things without intrusive thoughts about the addicted person and his or her behaviors.

“I wonder if there’s enough booze at home or if my dealer will be home or if I have enough money for my drugs.”
“I will need to cover my bases with my family by …”

Codependent Family Member:
“I wonder where my husband is, who he is with and what I will say to him when he gets home.”

Increased Tolerance:

The addict needs to engage more frequently in the behavior or the substance to garner the desired effect, which is usually related to a neurochemicalchange.
The codependent displays an increase in psychological tolerance as he/she increases acceptance of inappropriate and/or hurtful behavior with lower expectations.

“I used to get drunk on six beers. Now it takes a dozen.”
“I used to be satisfied with pornographic magazines; now I need contact with someone on the Internet who will interact with me.”

Codependent Family Member:
“He used to be critical of me and I would get really upset; now he calls me horrible names and it’s no big deal to me.”

Loss of Control:

The addict is no longer able to predict engaging or using behavior.
The codependent is also no longer able to predict his or her own behavior.

“I told myself I was only going to spend 50 dollars at the casino and lost my whole paycheck before I left.”
“I told myself I would only have one glass of wine at the wedding, and I got drunk and passed out.”

Codependent Family Member:
“When I know that he is going to be late for dinner again, my plan is to give him the cold shoulder and go about my business. On occasion I’ll snap. Yesterday I planned on ignoring him, but I ended up screaming in front of the kids. I, not my husband, was out of control.”


Blackouts are the one symptom the addict experiences that is not an exact carryover to the codependent. The substance addict has a period of amnesia, usually lasting from hours to days. He/she is conscious and interacting, but the memory is not imprinted on the brain, and therefore it cannot be recalled. The codependent’s blackout, often referred to as a “brown-out,” is due to the stress of heightened emotions; there is too much emotionally charged stimuli for details of what occurred to be recorded.

It may not be as well-delineated a block of memory as a substance abuse blackout. It is more a sense of something occurring without clarity. This could be referred to as a trance-like or dissociative experience in which the memory may or may not be recorded and not readily available for conscious memory. The process addict’s (gambler or sex addict) blackout is more similar to the codependent’s than the substance abuser’s.

“I don’t know where I was, what I did, or who I was with last night.”

Codependent Family Member:
“We had a screaming fight the other night. I don’t remember exactly what I said.”


The addict has a severe physical or psychological urge or craving to reengage in the substance or behavior.

The codependent experiences a deep obsessive psychological urge or longing for the times when things were better. Frequently, craving goes hand in hand with euphoric recall (romanticizing the good times).

“I wanted cocaine so bad I could taste it.”

Codependent Family Member:
“I really miss him. When he is gone, I ache for him.”

Compulsive Behavior:

Addicts begin engaging in behavior in a manner that they feel driven and obsessed, and they do so repeatedly, which often reduces cravings or preoccupation.

Codependents may begin engaging in behaviors such as snooping, spending money, eating, sex, etc. Codependents’ compulsivity may be acted out in perfectionistic tendencies.

“When I had a craving, I knew I shouldn’t drink, but I found myself in the bar last night anyway.”

Codependent Family Member:
“My house is clean with everything in its place. It makes up for how I feel inside.”

Decreased Tolerance:

Progressively the addict cannot engage or use to the extent he/she once did and begins to experience negative symptoms more quickly.

The codependent becomes less patient, is less likely to stay in denial and may experience an emotional bottom. Usually these symptoms transpire more in the latter stages of the addictive process.

“I used to be able to stay out for hours using, and now I am in trouble shortly after I begin.”

Codependent Family Member:
“I can’t take any more. Everything he does irritates me.”

Medical Problems:

In the latter stages of addiction, particularly if the addict is a substance abuser, physical problems can run the gamut from heart and lung disease, brain disease, liver damage, throat and mouth diseases to diabetes and digestive disorders. Medical problems may also be related to unsafe sexual practices, accidents, and injury.

Codependents are more apt to experience stress-related health problems ranging from headaches, stomach or digestive problems, hives, back problems, ulcers, depression and/or anxiety. Many diseases codependents suffer are fueled and complicated by stress, most specifically autoimmune disorders.

“I thought running marathons was proof I was healthy, fueling my denial about my substance abuse – to find myself slowly and silently becoming physically sick.”

Codependent Family Member: “I went to one doctor after another, thinking my problems were all physical, to find after months in a 12-Step program my physical ailments disappeared.”

As family members share in the disease, they may now share in the recovery.


4 Responses to Family Members Get Sucked into the Black Hole of the Addict

  1. […] Family Members Get Sucked into the Black Hole of the AddictRecognizing Family Recovery by Claudia Black, PhD, MSW. What do you mean I need recovery, too? What does that look like? Claudia Black The impact of addiction in the family is often thought of as the consequences of the addicted … […]

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