Chapter 1


Here we cover the basic concepts found in recovery literature. Among other terms, we explain addiction, co-dependence, and adult child. If this is familiar territory, skip ahead to chapter 2.

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This chapter gives a glimpse of the contemporary understanding of dysfunction, as expressed in the popular literature. It is possible to recover without any knowledge of addiction or codependence or any other aspect of dysfunction, but it helps to know your path. In a society that glorifies addiction and subtly and incessantly pushes us toward it, almost everyone is going to cross a section of the path that is addictive. Even if you are free of addiction, it helps to understand it because you are surrounded by it -- we do, indeed, live in an addictive society. Addiction could be greatly reduced if we all had some knowledge of the problem and were aware of practical techniques for human development.


Addiction almost never exists by itself. Addicts are usually part of an addictive system. Consider the system in which a smoker is enmeshed. In addition to other smokers, it consists of retailers, cigarette manufacturers, lobbyists, tobacco farmers, the media, educators, the medical profession, and the government. It is a system that perpetuates itself because of the silent collusion of all involved. Research has shown -- to take one example -- that a large number of patients quit smoking immediately, and permanently, if their doctor intervenes by simply and directly telling them to quit. But doctors, like everyone else, are a part of the system, and it doesn't occur to them to address the issue. Consider another example from the field of medicine: doctors are often too busy to follow up on patients for whom they have prescribed painkillers or tranquilizers. They are too busy because they are churning patients in and out of their offices to maximize profits. They are also too busy to look for the deeper causes of the physical and mental pain. As a result, many patients end up addicts.

Addictive systems can be big or small. Let's go into detail with a smaller system, the family. Right now, the purpose isn't for you to become an expert, but to get a feeling for the dynamics involved. To start with, we will consider the classic example of an addictive system: the alcoholic family. We will conveniently consider an archetypal situation, and then expand on that.

The history of such a system unfolds like a play. One person -- we will let it be the husband -- is an addict. He is an alcoholic. Being an alcoholic is a difficult job. In fact, it is almost impossible without the help of spouse, boss, co-workers, employees, parents, children, and probably many others. Therefore, for the play that we call The Addictive Drama, we need supporting actors and actresses. Let's introduce the wife. She is always nominated for best supporting actress, but never gets the award. Her role is to enable. That literally means she enables the alcoholic to continue drinking. She will protest all the time that she is trying to stop him, and that may very well be the case, but she is rarely effective enough to succeed, and she never walks off the stage before the final curtain. The name of her role is codependent.

Next, we introduce the children of the alcoholic and the codependent. Children growing up in an alcoholic family don't have a stable and loving environment. They learn to lie to protect the family image. This is the beginning of denial. Denial, in addictions theory, refers to an individual or a group of people who unconsciously, yet systematically and consistently, do not allow anyone, including themselves, to become consciously aware that there is a problem. (It is said that denial lies at the heart of addiction. Once denial is uncovered and faced, you are on the road to recovery. This is because you cannot solve a problem that you believe doesn't exist.)

The children in an alcoholic family learn to suppress their needs and desires to the point where, as adults, they don't know what their needs are, let alone how to fulfill them. In an alcoholic home, the reality is painful. A child has to hide from this reality to survive. She (or he) cannot face the daily humiliation, shame, anger, uncertainty, and worst of all, the bitter disappointment and abandonment. So she severs the connection between herself and the environment. She learns to withdraw, to not feel, to deny. If she desperately needs something, she learns it is not safe to ask directly. So she acts out her needs. She does something to draw attention to her neediness. Indirectly, somehow, she gets some part of her needs met. Acting out is anything we do to try indirectly and inappropriately to get our needs met. Addiction itself can be a form of acting out.

These attributes of adult children -- denial, acting out, emotional turmoil, suppression of true desires, a tendency toward addiction -- are carried over with full force into adult life. When the children of an alcoholic family grow up, they are called adult children of alcoholics (ACOA or ACA) or just adult children. Adult children are emotional children in adult bodies...



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