In their lifetimes, more than 21 million Americans ages 12 and older have had a substance abuse problem, which includes alcohol and drug addiction. Addiction is a disease that affects not only an individual’s physiological well being but their psychological and emotional states as well. Much has been written about the negative impacts of addiction on the user.

As much as addiction can affect the user, it can emotionally impact his or her family even more. Addiction and family have a unique relationship that isn’t often seen by the substance abuser. This article will discuss how substance abuse affects the family.

The Relationship Between Drug Addiction and Family Members

When a family is trying to cope with a loved one who is struggling with an addiction, they tend to experience intense and conflicting emotions that can take a significant toll on even the strongest of relationships. The addict’s family understands that their loved one isn’t trying to cause problems or hurt them intentionally. This empathy makes them want to provide him or her with support, love, and encouragement.

On the other hand, the manipulation, deceit, and other forms of emotional abuse that the addict throws their way daily is a cause of pain and frustration in the family. As a result, these negative emotions manifest themselves in unhealthy ways and may cause a strain in family ties.

The following are some of the most serious ways in which substance abuse affects the family.

1. Impact on Children

Studies show that 1 in 5 children grow up with a parent who abuses drugs or alcohol. If a parent is battling an addiction or substance abuse problem, the effects of that disorder are more than likely going to play a role in the child’s development. This is especially serious in single-parent households where the children have no one else to turn to.

When a parent has an addiction, they’ll be too busy looking for and using their substance of choice, which distracts them from their responsibilities. As a result, they won’t meet the needs of their child. This irresponsibility ranges from not taking care of basic needs, such as providing meals and keeping the child clean, to secondary needs like ensuring their child is getting an education and social life.

Moreover, there is a correlation between addiction and an increased risk of child abuse. Research has revealed that abused children have a higher chance of getting into substance use and addiction later in life. Even if the child doesn’t end up abusing substances, growing up in such an environment will compromise their emotional and mental health. This will impact their self-confidence, health, and social development.

2. Loss of Trust

Addicts aren’t likely to follow through on their agreements or promises, and this causes further strain in their relationships. It’s worth noting, however, that most addicts usually mean to honor their commitments but the effects of the substances make them unable to. Thus, if they’re in a relationship, their significant other is going to be frustrated due to the addict’s inability to meet their obligations.

They’re also likely to forget about the promises they make to their children. If this becomes a trend, the child will have a hard time forming bonds with other people since they don’t know how to trust. This loss of trust often results in broken marriages and dysfunctional children.

3. Increased Stress

In the throes of their addiction, the addict is likely going to leave all the responsibilities to their partner. The partner, therefore, becomes an enabler.

Taking care of bills, making decisions, raising the kids, and cleaning up after the addict is quickly going to take a toll on the other parent. This exposes them to an elevated risk of contracting stress-induced conditions such as high blood pressure and anxiety.

In addition, people who bottle up their stress are more likely to explode and unleash their emotions all at once. This can cause even more stress and discomfort among family members. 

4. Financial Problems

Financing an addiction isn’t cheap. Additionally, the substance abuse problem is likely going to cause the individual to lose their job due to poor performance or attendance. After that happens, they’ll turn to their savings to quench their addiction.

Consequently, the family will begin having problems paying for basic things such as food, clothing, utilities, and rent or mortgage.

There may also be legal problems such as driving under the influence or being caught with drugs. The associated costs create an even bigger financial problem.

Enablers might even provide money for alcohol or drugs to the addict to appease them. This is not only depleting their finances; it’s also making the addict think that their family members will always be around to finance their fix. 

5. Physical and Emotional Abuse

In addition to making the addict irrational, their substance abuse is also likely to put everyone around them on edge. This means that simple disagreements can result in big fights as everyone feels misunderstood.

With everyone acting out of character, physical abuse may start occurring on top of the pre-existing emotional abuse. Addicts can be the perpetrators of abuse, but their vulnerability also puts them at risk of becoming victims of it, too.

Children of addicts might also end up becoming abusers as well. In an attempt to shift blame from the addicted parent, some children may end up acting out and misbehaving. These actions can later scar them and cause them to turn to drinking or drug use as their relative did. Abuse and addiction can become a deadly cycle that can only be broken by treatment.

6. Fear and Confusion

Drug abuse usually makes an individual’s behavior unpredictable. You never know how they’ll react to a situation. In a bid to avoid physical or emotional abuse, family members might begin walking on eggshells to appease their addicted loved one.

Children will become more reserved so as not to risk upsetting the individual. The end result is a culture of fear and confusion which ensures that the household rarely has joy.

Addiction and Family Roles

When a family member is struggling with substance abuse, he or she is supported by several relatives. There is a shift in the dynamics of the home once addiction comes in, and there are six dysfunctional roles that each family member plays to sustain balance and normalcy. Each role can give you a better look at how substance abuse affects the family.

The Addict

The Addict has the central role of the family. Substances come first in the Addict’s life, and as a result, he or she ends up hurting, manipulating and lying to their loved ones and family members. They tend to blame others for their problems and end up isolating themselves from the people who care about them most. Many addicts don’t want to stop using, and this can cause resentment and anger among family members.

The Enabler

The Enabler usually comes in the form of a spouse, partner, or in a single-family household, the oldest child. In some cases, it can also be the child who is closest to the user. The Enabler tends to pick up after the Addict and pays the bills, makes sure the house is clean and ensures that the children go to school. They may even provide the Addict with money for drugs and alcohol to appease him or her. 

This behavior masks the Enabler’s inner feelings of betrayal, anger and hurt which the Addict has caused.

The Hero

The Hero (usually the oldest child) is an overachiever who is hardworking and typically earns straight A’s in school. The Hero acts like this to cover up the guilt, inadequacy, anxiety and stress they’re feeling inside. They also try to convey a sense of normalcy in the family and feel the need to take on more and more responsibility. Performing at this level can put a great deal of stress on the Hero, resulting in high anxiety.

The Scapegoat

The rebellious member of the family, the Scapegoat is a child who acts out and frequently misbehaves to distract themselves from the turmoil that’s going on in their house. Scapegoats end up getting blamed for the family problems, and they often resent the Addict for putting them in this position. As scapegoats get older, they’ll likely get in trouble with the law. Women tend to engage in risky sexual behavior, and men tend to become physically abusive toward their own families.

The Mascot

Also known as the “class clown,” the Mascot is the source of comedic relief within the family. When the Addict is causing distress and discomfort in the household, the Mascot can be counted on to provide a laugh. He or she will often sacrifice their own needs to supply the humor needed for everyone to cope. When they get older, Mascots will likely self-medicate with alcohol or drugs to escape from their childhood trauma.

The Lost Child

Finally, the Lost Child has difficulty interacting with others and has underdeveloped social skills. Usually the middle or youngest child, the Lost Child is withdrawn and tends to spend time alone. They engage in fantasy play to distract themselves from their troublesome home lives, and as they get older, they have trouble forming relationships and put off making important decisions.

It’s easy to see how substance abuse affects the family. This disease has its own separate, unique impact on every member of the household, and most of the time it’s negative. Once a user sees how addiction and family are related, they’ll be more likely to make a positive change in their lives. 

Dealing with Addiction in the Family

The first thing you should do upon realizing that your loved one has a substance abuse problem is to encourage them to seek treatment. Approach them while they’re calm and sober, and talk to them compassionately. Using facts, explain to them how their addiction has damaging effects not only on them but also on the rest of the family.

If they don’t want to listen, consider staging an intervention where you get other key members of the family and a therapist involved.

It’s important that the whole family gets counseling or therapy. This is beneficial toward helping everyone recover and move on from the effects of the addiction. A therapist will create an environment where everyone can share their thoughts and feelings. They can also help you work through the present challenges while implementing strategies that will build trust.

The effects of drug addiction on family members can be dire. However, by seeking treatment for the addict and counseling for the entire family, affected families will have a better chance of rebuilding their lives and relationships.

How Family Therapy Can Help with Addiction

Family therapy is one of the many aftercare treatments offered at Discovery Institute. When the entire family visits the addict in treatment, they can better see how he or she is doing and provide support and encouragement. As family members, you can also better understand what your addicted loved one is going through, as well as observe the patterns and experiences that may have led them to substance abuse.

Below are the types of family therapy we have here at Discovery.

  • Individual family counseling: Individual family counseling allows family members to attend therapy without the addict to process their own feelings and emotions about their loved one’s experience.
  • Group family counseling: It’s also necessary to attend counseling with your addicted family member. This way you can move forward together in recovery and learn more about each other.

It’s important for family members of addicts to have plenty of support during this time of recovery, which is why we also provide resources and support. We have several online addiction guides that will give you an inside look at addiction and how it affects everyone involved. Through this mode of counseling, addicts can see how substance abuse affects the family.

Find Family Addiction Treatment at Discovery Institute

Do you have a loved one who is battling addiction? For over 40 years, The Discovery Institute has been helping families in New Jersey and beyond to make successful recoveries from addictions. Let us help you find the best treatment for you and your family members. Contact us today to learn more, and we’ll connect you to one of our licensed representatives. It’s time to get your family back to a healthy place.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MD

Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MDDr. Jeffrey Berman is a psychiatrist in Teaneck, New Jersey and is affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. He received his medical degree from State University of New York Upstate Medical University and has been in practice for more than 20 years. He also speaks multiple languages, including French and Hebrew.

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