Secrets, Denial, and Addicted Families

Addicted families are characterized by promoting behaviors and mechanisms designed to hide or deny their deep issues, using secrecy or denial to do so. These types of families are highly dysfunctional and often deeply unhappy.
Secrets, Denial, and Addicted Families

Last update: 19 May, 2021

According to Professor Marcus Caldas from the University of Deusto, secrets and denial fuel addictive behaviors in families. Why are we talking about addicted families instead of individual addicts? In Caldas’ opinion, an addict affects their environment in one way or another. In fact, the people surrounding the addict often participate in the addiction, consciously or unconsciously.

Caldas proposes that the family functions as a system in which the action or inaction of each part has repercussions on the others. In this regard, the addicted family influences everyone who’s a part of it.

Often, addicted families use secrecy and denial as tools to avoid alcoholism or drug addiction in one or more of their members. However, this isn’t the correct approach and can actually have the opposite effect of reinforcing the addiction.

The addicted family can actually reinforce the addiction.

Addicted families

Addicted families have patterns of behavior that tend to cause compulsive dependence. Usually, the members of the family maybe consider some behaviors to be “normal” that aren’t. They may know that they aren’t normal behaviors but decide to ignore this reality to maintain their way of life. Some common traits are present in addicted families, including the following:

  • Impulsivity and lack of control. It’s common for these families to act emotionally in the moment, often with anger. Minimal stimuli cause disproportionate reactions.
  • Limitless desires. In addicted families, individuals do what they want regardless of the costs. Any limits are viewed negatively. They also don’t know how to create limits for others.
  • A need for instant gratification. Generally, there’s a low tolerance for frustration. This manifests as extreme difficulty postponing gratification. They want what they want and they want it now.
  • Behavior marked by shifts in mood. In addicted families, there are significant difficulties to complete plans or projects. They leave plans, relationships, and friends halfway through.
  • Continual dissatisfaction. They aren’t easy to satisfy. A person may want something, but once they get it, it no longer seems valuable to them.
  • They don’t tolerate losing. The loss of whatever it is becomes a catastrophe of great proportions. They create situations in order to avoid accepting that they lost something.

Secrets and denial

Two of the common tools in addicted families are secrecy and denial. Commonly, for example, if a father or mother is an addict, this becomes a taboo subject. It shouldn’t be talked about or discussed with anyone. It just “happens” and isn’t talked about.

It’s also very common that family members have their own secret behaviors, such as hiding bottles, having secret relationships, or developing behaviors that they hide from other family members. Additionally, members may harbor secret desires about destroying the family, like running away.

Sometimes these secrets are so well kept that they turn into denial. Members end up lying to themselves and believing their own lies. This behavior becomes habitual and irregular behaviors become normalized.

A woman with her head in her hands.

Psychological chaos

All this combined generates a constant feeling of chaos of emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Important things are silenced while inconsequential issues are shouted. Despair and hopelessness often turn into an inordinate desire for control. Anything genuine becomes a source of shame and concealment.

Generally, secrecy and denial occur around the most openly addicted person. The addict says they aren’t actually addicted or that their addiction isn’t a big deal. They also won’t hear anything to the contrary. However, if there are any children in the household, these statements go against their entire reality.

Addictions are complex and can’t be reduced to the consumption of a substance of a compulsive repetition of behavior. The most important thing in addicted families isn’t the literal addiction but the lifestyle and patterns of behavior that the family promotes. A framework of secrecy and denial dooms these families to sink deeper and deeper into their problems.

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  • Bonfiglio, J. I., Rodríguez Espínola, S. S., & Salvia, A. (2015). Aumento del tráfico de drogas en los barrios, problemas de adicciones severas en las familias y poblaciones en riesgo.