When a Dysfunctional Family Triggers Your Addiction

July 2, 2020 Amanda Richardson

If you're anything like me, family might be a touchy subject for you or possibly even an addiction trigger depending on your family's level of dysfunction. Childhood trauma, emotional gaslighting, and psychological abuse are all possible factors when determining a family's dysfunctional nature. For some individuals who endure these experiences as an adolescent, it can possibly lead to a life of addiction, mental health concerns, or for some a life of crime and incarceration. In my experience, the difficulties I have faced with my dysfunctional family certainly impacted the probability of my addiction and mental health diagnosis; and even many years later, I've learned that my family can be a huge trigger for me.

The Impact of Family Dysfunction

Everyone's family functions different and it seems that there are varying degrees of dysfunction sometimes even within one family unit. I grew up as an only child with one mentally-ill, addicted parent, and another semi-normal parent. I am beyond grateful that even in the midst of my trauma, I almost always had at least one stable, supportive adult around me. I know so many people out there weren't as fortunate.

However, even though my family tree's trauma and dysfunction felt somewhat manageable, there were definitely situations that negatively impacted me emotionally, mentally, and psychologically. I witnessed addiction at a fairly young age, but, truthfully, I don't know if seeing addiction through the eyes of a child is what caused my addictive nature as a teen and young adult.

I personally believe that my addiction and unhealthy dependence on sex and pornography stemmed from traumatic experiences and my desperate attempts to control my wildly out-of-control life. As a teenager, my life became more and more unmanageable. I felt entirely hopeless and so alone in the world. I was desperate to find a way to cope.

How Behavioral Addiction Formed from Family Dysfunction

Through the years, I began to use sex as a tool to cope with my difficult home life. It was a way for me to feel validated, seen, and loved, even if that love was often fictional or forced.

Eventually, sex became more of a drug for me than a means of expressing love or intimacy. I utilized sex as a pain pill of sorts, to numb or escape from the devastating realities of my dysfunctional family. I doubt any of the young men I slept with knew this or even cared. In some ways, I imagine we were both using each other for different things. 

As I got older and began to realize the implications of having numerous sexual partners, I eventually adapted my addictive tendencies to what I believed was a safer and more practical option. I began using pornography in place of sexual activity to cope with my difficult life and traumatizing memories instead.

At first, this felt freeing. I no longer needed a second party to fulfill my numbing needs and I was preserving my physical safety and health much more effectively than I did in years prior. However, because of my addictive personality, what started as a convenient coping mechanism soon took over my life and everything in it.

Because pornography seemed to be even easier to access than a real, live, sexual partner, I became unhinged in my addiction and lost nearly all sense of control. Ironically, I had never felt like I was more control in my entire life. I felt empowered, free, and independent. However, looking back, I can see now that I was operating from a place of survival, almost entirely dependent on my addiction to get me through the day.

From Addiction to Recovery to Lifelong Triggers

As many of you probably know, I eventually spiraled out of control and got help for my life-altering, behavioral addiction. I've been in recovery for a few years now, but no matter how sober or recovered you think you might be, triggers can still catch you off guard.

For me, my dysfunctional family serves as a constant reminder for the reason I became addicted in the first place and the reason why I so desperately wanted a way to escape from my life.

Thankfully, I don't live in the same zip code (or even time zone) as my parents anymore, so that divide has proven to be a fairly helpful factor in my recovery from addiction. Even so, being thousands of miles apart from each other hasn't proven to fully trigger-proof my life. My family still maintains the ability to send me into a full-blown frenzy if I am reminded of my painful past and the dysfunction that lives within it.

My family has proven to be one of the most detrimental triggers in my addiction recovery and I know that is because of the role those events played in shaping my addictive habits as a teenager.

I don't say all of this to point blame or imply that my family is solely responsible for my addiction. I know that I have to take responsibility for my actions. I wholeheartedly acknowledge the role I played in choosing to numb out using harmful, addictive behaviors for nearly 10 years of my life. There is no excuse for that and I am still paying the price for those unhealthy choices I made.

Final Thoughts on My Dysfunctional Family and Addiction

Ultimately, I didn't write this post with the intent to provide unrealistic hope or unattainable goals for you. I wrote it because I want those of you who have suffered due to dysfunctional families to know that you are not alone and your family history (or family trauma) does not have to decide the course for your future.

Even though my dysfunctional family was (and still is) an integral aspect of my addiction, I love them and I choose to still have a relationship with most of the individuals involved. That doesn't have to be your story though. If you suffered abuse or trauma at the hands of your family, I encourage you to speak with a licensed therapist about when or if you should seek out a relationship with those who have harmed you.

I have been in therapy consistently on a weekly basis for about three years now and inconsistently for about 12 years prior to that. I have processed and processed and processed again and with the help of many mental health professionals, I've arrived at the place I'm in now.

Don't rush. Take your time. Have some grace for yourself and others. Above all though, remember that you are worth the trials it takes to achieve a life that you love, despite a dysfunctional family.

How has your dysfunctional family played into your addiction? Share your thoughts in the comments.

APA Reference
Richardson, A. (2020, July 2). When a Dysfunctional Family Triggers Your Addiction, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 23 from

Author: Amanda Richardson

Amanda is a professional health and wellness writer who specializes in creating content tailored to the female audience. She is especially passionate about social injustice, mental health, and addiction recovery.

Find Amanda on Facebook, Twitter and her personal blog.

For more information on Amanda's professional writing services, be sure to check her out at Richardson Writing Influence.

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