If you've ever wondered why you have multiple addicts in your family, this expert interview on addictions and the family may explain why. Ken Seeley, TV host for the A&E show Intervention, shares his knowledge and experiences on how genetics and environmental influences increase the risk of someone becoming an addict.
About the Expert: Ken Seeley
Ken Seeley has just celebrated 20 years of sobriety and has also been working in the addictions field for 20 years. He holds a certificate from the National Association of Drug and Alcohol Interventionists and is an interventionist for the Betty Ford Center. For the past eight years, the company he founded, Intervention 911, has been helping families get their loved ones into treatment through the intervention process. His company has given him the opportunity to work with hundreds of families to help show them they don't have to suffer as a family because of addiction.
Interview on Addictions and the Family: Genetics and Environmental Influences
LTK: Why is it common to see multiple family members suffering from addiction?
KS: Family environment can be one of the biggest factors in how addiction runs in families. If there is an addict in a family, how that family behaves can often times support the addiction or help stifle the addiction. Very often when families come to me, they are in denial about how their behavior plays a role in supporting the addiction. That is one of the reasons I wrote my book, Face it and Fix It. It helps you figure out where denial is in your life so you can address the problems that are facing you. This is powerful for families who have active addicts because it alerts them to the behavior that needs to change and shows them how to do that.
LTK: How do genetics and environment influence addiction?
KS: Many factors influence whether or not a person will become an addict. Certainly, many families see addiction appearing from generation to generation. However, some people who are prone to addiction never become addicts because their environment has not allowed it. In my line of work, this is very rare. I think if there is a predisposition and an unhealthy environment, you can almost guarantee that a person will become active in their addiction.
LTK: How do you explain why some people become addicts even though there is no family history of addiction?
KS: Genetics is not the only factor in the disease. Environment, experiences and mental health are all factors that can influence whether a person becomes an addict. There also have to be consequences for addiction. For most people who don't suffer addiction, they stop drinking because the cons outweigh the pros. They say, "I don't want to get sick and be late for work." That consequence outweighs getting drunk. However, for people who are trying to feel comfortable and fill a void, being late for work might not be a reason to stop drinking because the pain of being in their own skin outweighs that.
LTK: If someone is an alcoholic, does this mean that other family members are at risk for alcoholism specifically or for addiction in general?
KS: I feel families need to be on watch for addiction in general as it can manifest in so many ways. The addict is trying to fill a void. They are uncomfortable in their own skin. They don't feel good about who they are. Something is missing. Therefore, whichever type of addiction, be it gambling, drinking or drugs, works to fill that void. People can have cross-addictions (being addicted to multiple substances) or can have a laser-like focus (i.e. the person with the eating disorder who has never used drugs or alcohol). They are all suffering the same disease but self-treating it in different ways that work for them.
Helping Family Addiction
LTK: What can people do to lessen the risk of developing an addiction when there is a family history?
KS: I think being aware of the genetic influence of addiction and watching for red flags is a big key. In addition, educating yourself about addiction is important. In my book, I encourage people to create a circle of trust. This is a group of people who give you honest feedback and help you identify unhealthy behaviors. An effective idea to combat addiction would be to work with your circle of trust to establish a contract that stipulates what will happen if you become active in your addiction or exhibit behaviors that might lead to drug or alcohol use and addiction. This contract acts as a barrier between you and the addiction.
LTK: How can someone help a family member with an addiction?
KS: It is critical for families to understand the disease and learn how to fight it. Unfortunately, we are not born with an instruction guide on how to do this. I encourage families to keep an eye out for "red flags". Red Flags are behaviors that don't contribute to the overall health of a person. These red flags can be staying out late and getting drunk every night, refusal to eat a certain kind of food because it will make you fat and even getting a DUI. The natural instinct of the family is to protect and help their loved ones. For example, bailing out a repeat drunk driver seems to be supporting and protecting a person, but it is actually supporting the addiction. It is recognizing red flags that is so important because then we can intervene early and help foster an environment that does not allow the addiction to grow.
Finding Help for an Addiction
If you feel you have a problem or if you have a loved one who you think might have a problem, don't hesitate to reach out for help. There is no need for someone to suffer through life. There is a solution. If you think you need help, you can contact Intervention 911 or call 866-888-4911.
LoveToKnow Recovery would like to thank Ken Seeley for sharing his advice for this interview on addictions and the family.