Family secrets make everyone sick. Alcohol and substance abuse impacts the whole household and can cause a great amount of stress and negative feelings. Keeping such secrets tends to be an unspoken rule. By hiding the addictions, however, negative consequences impact everyone, not just the addict.

Here are the seven most common reasons why family members keep secrets.

1. Family Secrets Feel Like Love

Often family members believe they are helping the addict by keeping the substance use secret. This protection is not loving, however, because secrecy keeps the addict and the family in denial.

2. Family Secrets May Be The Root Of Denial

When the signs and symptoms of use are ignored, the family can pretend there is no problem. Consequences worsen, but the family still pretends everything will work out. Denial is also destructive conditioning.

3. Fear Of Confrontation

Watching someone get sicker in their addiction is very scary, so loved ones may ignore the problems. Also there may be fear of repercussions by confronting the user (abuse, losing the home if the addict leaves, fear for the children, etc.)

4. To Avoid Rocking The Boat

Under the best of circumstances, managing a household and kids is a difficult process. Addressing and confronting a substance user is an added stressor. With destructive conditioning, the family adjusts to the chaotic family system. This is an unhealthy adjustment to keep peace in the family and maintain the status quo. This suits the user, who does not want the family system to change. Avoidance allows the substance use and negative behaviors to continue.

5. To Protect The Children Or Parents

If the addict is a parent, both parents may feel the children won’t be afraid if the secret is kept. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Children as young as 2 -3 years old understand that there is something bad going on. Mommy of daddy does something wrong. And of course, older children and teenagers know exactly what is happening and think it’s okay. If dad can get high every day, they can do the same. By the same token children as taught not to tell others what’s happening.

6. Secrets May Be Kept To Avoid Shame And Embarrassment

Unfortunately, there is still a stigma regarding substance abuse. Secrets may be kept so the employer, friends, the church, the school, and all others don’t know. If they are aware of what’s going on, then the substance user and his/her/their families may feel shame over the addiction.

7. Lack of Understanding

When a problem is kept secret, there is no way to understand its impact. Addiction is known as a family disease because everyone plays a part in it. Lack of awareness that addiction is a family illness keeps families from acknowledging the problem and seeking help.

The devastation of substance use disorder can only thrive in silence. When you try to hide substance use( and other addictions ), it gets worse. Silence allows addiction to grow while protecting the addict from facing consequences.

The Elephant In The Room Syndrome

Denial is when everyone knows the addiction is there, but each person tries to deny its presence. The secret, however, is huge. It’s so visible and dominating, that the secret creates the feeling of “crazy making” as family, and children’s realities are totally distorted.

A Family Affair

A substance use disorder/s is never just limited to the substance user – it is a family affair. Because the addiction has so many consequences, not just for the user but for the family, the family becomes as ill as the addict and also suffers its own consequences.

The Solution To Minimizing Family Secrets

Sharing the secrets in a healthy manner helps for growth and for healing and recovery. Until a problem is acknowledged, there is no chance of recovery. So as a family, get honest with yourselves, with the children, with other family members, and with friends and all other supports. Once truth is acknowledged, there will be freedom from the toxic secrets. This truth is the opening of doors to recovery not only for the addict, but for the entire family.

If anyone in your home is in danger here are resources:

National Family Violence Hotlines

Toxic Family Quotes

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Carol Anderson
Carol Anderson, D.Min., ACSW, LMSW, is a licensed clinical social worker with over 25 years of experience in the fields of mental health, addictions, and co-occurring disorders. Her other specialties include grief and trauma, women’s issues, chronic pain management, holistic healing, GLBTQ concerns, and spirituality and transpersonal psychology. Dr. Anderson has been educated and trained in the fields of education, social work, and spirituality, and she holds a Doctor of Ministry degree (non-denominational/interfaith) specializing in spirituality.

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