When discussing the impact of addiction, the focus commonly settles on how substance abuse issues affect the individual’s life. From their mental health to social support needs, no corner of a person’s life remains untouched by substance abuse. However, to bring about greater healing and lasting change, shedding light on the external effects of addiction is essential, namely the impact substance abuse problems have on the family.
Addiction never solely impacts just one person. Parents, spouses, children, siblings, and other relatives also suffer from a loved one’s drinking or drug use. Beyond the emotional despair and even blame that a person can take on for their loved one’s problem, there are also financial impacts and sometimes even legal consequences to being close to a person with an addiction.
From conflict to safety concerns, substance abuse is a family issue, and family is one pillar of recovery that should not be overlooked during treatment.
The Generational Impact of Addiction
Between 2009 and 2014, 8.7 million children in the United States lived in a household with a parent who had had a substance use disorder in the last year. 1 One in 10 children lived with a parent who had an alcohol use disorder, and one in 35 resided in a household with a parent with a drug abuse problem.
Being exposed to substance abuse at a young age increases a person’s risk of developing one later in life. Thus, children who grow up around addiction learn addictive habits from their parents. Furthermore, they get exposed to additional environmental factors that can lead to mental illness in adolescence and adulthood.
Parents with substance abuse problems are not bad people, and their addiction does not mean they do not love their children. But people wrestling with an alcohol or drug abuse issue cannot provide the level of emotional support, care, and involvement children need to thrive. As a result, children raised by parents with substance abuse problems often grow up feeling neglected or become very guarded in adulthood. Later in life, they may struggle with attachment issues, depression, anxiety, or substance abuse problems. They are also more likely to suffer from developmental delays, including congenital disabilities and social impairments.
The Impact of Addiction on the Family
When someone you love misuses drugs or alcohol, the impact has a domino effect. Relationships between other family members become strained as parents, spouses, and children fight over the right way to cope with the individual’s problem. The last three decades have seen significant shifts in drug problems in America; there has been a 16.8 percent increase in parents having their children removed from their custody due to alcohol or drug use. 2
The opioid epidemic, which has taken over 40,000 lives each year since 2010, is just one contributing factor to the rising number of parents with drug abuse problems in the United States. 3
Parents of children with a substance abuse disorder (SUD) are also left wrestling with coping. They may end up enabling because the alternative seems like getting cut off from their child. Tensions can result between couples or evoke jealousy and anger from siblings. Sadly, relationships can even be severed between the person with the addiction and their family members.
Substance Abuse Destroys Relationships
Married couples or dating partners will find themselves trapped in a cycle when one or both people develop an addiction. When one person has a SUD and the other does not, there is a wide range of emotions that cause conflict and distance in the relationship. Anger, shame, embarrassment, and even resentment can build as one partner becomes responsible for maintaining the other’s addictive lifestyle. Too ashamed to seek help, they may choose to hide the problem even though it degrades their mental health.
Where substance abuse is present in relationships, a sense of hurt and betrayal often already exists. If the partner using drugs or alcohol cheats, these feelings are only amplified. Healing from the trauma of infidelity can destroy even the most seemingly “perfect” relationships. Yet, for someone coping with their pain and losing their partner to addiction, this may feel impossible.
Increased Mental Illness
Even if you do not have a substance use disorder, being close with someone who does increases your risk. You’re also more likely to develop depression or suffer from anxiety. Often, families with someone suffering from SUD fall into a toxic spiral of emotional, verbal, or physical abuse.
Whether it’s having one or witnessing one, the long-reaching effects of addiction cause serious mental health consequences without intervention. The longer someone delays in getting help or reaching out for support, they will feel worse.
Addiction Treatment for Families
Family therapy is one service offered in rehab that can help repair the damages caused by a substance use disorder. While it will take time, patience, and vulnerability to recover, healing can start in the right setting.
A compassionate, understanding therapist can help frame addiction in a new light for family members who are left asking, “Why?” It also helps the family unite as a team, with each member helping to get their loved one sober. If you or someone you love is struggling with the impact of addiction, contact your local hospital or visit us online.
About the author:
Lisa Waknin is the Founder and Director of Silver Sands Recovery, located in Prescott, Arizona. Lisa started Silver Sands Recovery after immersing herself in the addiction treatment world for several years to figure out what could be done differently to help her daughter and others like her to overcome addiction and stay sober. She believes in a hands-on treatment approach, which includes taking someone out of their environment, providing a 90-day program in a structured environment. During treatment, clients not only recover physically but also learn to live their life again. Lisa is a sought-after expert speaker for recovery support groups, charities, schools, communities, and companies wanting to educate themselves on the explosion of opiate and heroin abuse in our country and the best way to understand, treat, and beat it.