How Addiction Affects Families

Author: NP Addiction Clinic
Published: November 29, 2022

Addiction, also known as a substance use disorder, is a disease that affects the mind, body, and spirit. As substance abuse progresses, the impact on an individual's life worsens and the risk of short and long-term effects increases. But the effects of addiction do not only affect the person using harmful substances, it also impacts the family and friends around them.

Unfortunately, close relationships with family members and loved ones are likely to be negatively impacted by the problems that are caused by substance abuse. Addiction affects the family in different ways, whether it is a child, spouse, or parent, all can suffer emotional damage alongside other consequences.

Despite these difficulties, it is possible to overcome the hardships and heal the wounds caused by substance abuse. Family members are able to work together to mend relationships so all can live happy and healthy lifestyles. Read on to find out about how addiction affects families and the most effective ways to move onwards and upwards.

What Is a Substance Use Disorder

What Is a Substance Use Disorder

A substance use disorder is a complex brain disease. It is characterized by the uncontrolled use of harmful substances despite negative consequences to one's life. Individuals living with an alcohol or drug addiction intensely focus on alcohol or drug abuse to the point where their day-to-day life is heavily impacted, from work life to financial difficulties to family.

People living with substance use disorder often have distorted behaviors and thinking due to the changes in the brain's chemistry and structure. The effects of the substances on the brain cause people to have changes in personality, intense cravings, and other abnormal behaviors and movements. Over time, individuals engaging in drug or alcohol abuse build up a tolerance, this means they need more of the substance in order to feel the same effects.

A lot of the time, people living with an alcohol or drug addiction are aware of their problem but are unable to stop, even if they want to. Addiction can affect their physical and psychological health as well as cause interpersonal problems, like with family members.

Signs and Symptoms of Substance Abuse

If you believe a family member is living with a substance use disorder, most substances induce noticeable signs and symptoms, causing behavioral and physical.

Although it is important to remember that a substance use disorder is a complex disease that affects individuals in many different ways, there are some key things to look out for.

Physical signs

  • Sudden weight loss
  • Disrupted sleeping patterns
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Changes in complexion

Changes in Behavior

  • Ignoring or avoiding responsibilities, such as school or work
  • Secretive behavior
  • Withdraw from loved ones, including extended family and friends
  • Financial difficulties

Psychological Symptoms

  • Poor motivation
  • Low self-esteem
  • Symptoms of anxiety or depression
  • Little motivation
  • Irritability and mood swings

How Addiction Affects Family Members

A substance use disorder impacts everyone and their loved ones in a unique way, it is a not one size fits all disease and personal factors influence the experience. The same can be said for family members. Unfortunately, if someone within the family household is living with an alcohol or drug addiction, relationships and a once peaceful home can easily become strained, no matter which family member is abusing substances.

Whether is the child, parent, sibling, or spouse, addiction can really change the family dynamic and the entire family has to endure the negative side effects of drug or alcohol abuse. So, how exactly does addiction affect the family?

Depending on which family member struggles with an addiction disorder, family members will all have different experiences and responses. Some may take a step back, not wanting to involve themselves in any shape or form. In contrast, others can take the opposite role and develop unhealthy coping mechanisms like enabling or codependent behaviors. Others may simply try to blend in, ignoring that the alcohol or drug abuse is even happening.

How Addiction Affects Children

According to the Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), around one in eight children are living with a parental figure who has actively abused substances within the past year. The effects of living and dealing with parental substance abuse are dependent on the family situations, such as whether they come from two-parent or single-parent households, as well as whether it is one or both of the parents struggling with substances. Children living in a house affected by addiction ultimately bear most of the damage.

Witnessing a parent abuse drugs or other substances is an isolating experience, children feel there is no one to turn to and no help to deal with the situation. Living in such an unpredictable environment can cause a role reversal where the child attempts to manage the situation. Children living with parental substance abuse are undergoing a distressing and traumatic experience that can cause delays in development and learning, increasing the risk of mental and emotional disorders.

Family addiction affects the whole home, and early exposure to this kind of turmoil can cause a child to feel physically and emotionally unsafe and neglected as they receive inconsistent and little support. This can cause children to become emotionally unstable, where they may develop self-blame or extreme guilt for their parent's substance abuse.

Children living with an addicted parent have their social development stumped and affected, causing problems in their health, confidence, and mental health. Unfortunately, children who experience parental substance abuse are at a much greater risk of developing substance use disorders later on in life.

How Addition Affects Spouses

Within the context of marriage, it is understandable that addiction affects spouses in the most obvious ways. Addiction can cause individuals to become dishonest and selfish, but the person living with the addiction is often unable to see or understand the impact of this behavior. This tends to drive a wedge between partners, causing spouses to react with guilt, shame, or sadness.

Generally speaking, life and marriage's general ups and downs are common factors to cause conflict within marital relationships. However, when one partner is abusing substances, a cycle of conflict can be apparent within the household. Research has found that addiction and higher divorce rates have a closely interlinked relationship, it can also affect the well-being and mental health of the partner dealing with the substance abuse.

How Addiction Affects Siblings

Siblings of individuals who abuse substances have often been referred to as the 'invisible victims.' The entire family is obviously affected in various ways, but with the parent's time being consumed with their child living with addiction, the ongoing issue draws the attention away from the other family members. Siblings tend to end up living on the sidelines as they learn to deal with their frustration, shame, resentment, and confusion.

Siblings have a first-hand experience with the negative side effects of drug or alcohol abuse and how it affects the family. This stops them from abusing substances, not wanting to experience the same negative implications. Alternatively, others have turned to alcohol or drug abuse to try and escape the emotional turmoil caused by the addiction.

It is not uncommon for siblings to take on board a load of responsibility for the rest of the family, maybe they have had to become responsible for taking care of other members of the family, and dealing with legal issues or financial difficulties. This happens as the rest of the family is preoccupied with dealing and coping with the family member abusing substances. This is a lot to handle for anything, especially when trying to deal with and support a sibling living with a substance use disorder.

How Addiction Affects Parents

Parents struggling with a child's substance abuse have a unique set of issues and difficulties they have to deal with. They are constantly worried about their child's well-being and safety and may even feel partly to blame for their child's decisions. It can feel powerless watching the disease take over your child, this can cause some parents to take on an enabling or overbearing role.

Dealing with adult children and their substance abuse can create co-dependent relationships, a typical coping mechanism for dealing with a family member with addiction. This can include a parent taking responsibility for their child and their actions, putting their child's needs and wants before their own feelings, and the inability to set or maintain healthy boundaries.

The Effects of Addiction on the Whole Family

The Effects of Addiction on the Whole Family

The substance abuse of a family member can of course individually impact different family members, but there are also a number of different ways addiction affects the whole family. Not all families experience the same negative implications, but at times the experiences are similar

Increased Risk of Abuse

As substance abuse continues, individuals can become difficult to deal with and unpredictable. Drug and alcohol abuse can cause a person to come frustrated, angry, and erratic and can lead to them lashing out at anyone close to them. People are more likely to act out when under the influence of drugs or alcohol. One of the most profound effects of addiction on the entire family is the increased risk of abuse. Whether this is physical, emotional, or sexual.

Parental substance abuse can cause parents to decline in functioning within their parental role. This is due to mental and physical impairment due to drugs and alcohol. Substance abuse within a parent is recognized as a risk factor for different forms of child abuse.

Research has found that excessive alcohol or drug use increases the risk of experiencing domestic violence within a relationship. There are many forms of domestic violence, whether it be physical, psychological, or sexual abuse. When an individual abuses drugs, it changes the chemicals in their brain, which can result in violent, irrational, or controlling behavior. Domestic violence often stems from a desire for power and control and when someone is under the influence, they are likely to lose control of their inhibitions.

If you are in a relationship where you are experiencing abuse, there is help and support available 24/7. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available and confidential. Please reach out to 1-800-799-7233 if you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence.

Financial Support

Drugs and alcohol are expensive and many people abusing substances throw all of their money into trying to get hold of the substances that they need. But addiction can make it difficult to maintain a job, so families typically take on the financial responsibility for the family member living with the addiction.

Of course, buying drugs or alcohol is costly, but with addiction comes additional expenses, from legal fees to health care. According to research, the economic downfall of substance abuse is more than twice the amount of other neurological diseases.

Increased Risk of a Family Member Abusing Substances

Another way that addiction affects the family is the increased risk that another family member will start to abuse substances. It has been said that abusing substances 'runs' in the family. Additionally, many people have a genetic predisposition to addiction and research has continually found genetics to be a risk factor for developing an alcohol or drug addiction. Other factors that play a role in addiction include:

  • Exposure to trauma, neglect, or other adverse early life experiences
  • Envrionemtnal factors
  • Learned behaviors
  • Psychiatric factors

Typically, the chances of having more than one family member with addiction are pretty high, creating a pattern and causing the cycle to start again.

The Family Roles in Addiction

As we know, addiction affects the family in many different ways. However, medical professionals have distinguished five roles that family members tend to adopt to deal with addiction. In some family situations, each member takes on one role, whereas other members may adopt multiple roles and other families don't fulfill all roles.

These six different roles are an active way to observe how different family members deal with their loved one's addictions.

The Addicted Family Member

This role is the person abusing substances. They are the source of a lot of the conflict, whether it be indirectly or directly. Due to changes in brain chemistry and the effects of drug and alcohol use, they tend to be selfish, acting and behaving in ways that are suited to them, regardless of the impact on the family. Much of the family dynamic revolves around this member.

The Hero

The hero's role attempts to make the family appear normal to others. Although they are not directly enabling, they often try to maintain a sense of stability in the household and even attempt to maintain appearances to others. The hero tends to be a self-sufficient and highly responsible individual.

The Caretaker

The caretaker refers to the family member that attempts to cover up and make excuses for the person abusing substances. They try to keep the peace and make the rest of the family as happy as possible. They find their purpose in enabling the individual with the addiction, unfortunately keeping the vicious cycle of addiction ticking on.

The Mascot

The mascot is the comedy maker of the family. They try to relieve the stress and chaos by attempting silly or humourous behavior. They just want people to see the light side of things and are constantly trying to make their family feel better through their different behaviors. This role can be exhausting and is adopted as an attempt to avoid the reality they are facing.

The Scapegoat

The scapegoat is the exact opposite of the hero. They tend to act with hostility towards the family and are often defiant. They deal with the effects by acting out and drawing attention to themselves through problematic behaviors.

The Lost Child

The Lost Child

The lost child is the quieter one. They try to avoid additional chaos and attempt to steer clear of what is happening. The lost child role is typically adopted by younger siblings as they are used to their older siblings leading. They attempt to blend in with the background of the chaos happening around them.

What Does Family Therapy Involve?

It can seem difficult to cope when a family member is struggling with addiction. Maybe you feel like you've tried your best to help and you're now at a loss. When attempts are unsuccessful, it's disheartening and can push you back in terms of progress. However, there are many ways you can help a family member overcome addiction. It is also important to remember that there is support for the whole family. Addiction affects not just the individual with the substance abuse disorder, but family members too.

A great opportunity for family members to work together and have the chance to exchange their feelings in a safe space is family therapy. Guidance from a counselor can help you and your family work through confrontational difficulties in an effective and constructive way. Some of the topics you may encounter in family therapy include:

  • Boundaries
  • Healthy communication
  • Addiction education
  • The balance between accountability and positivity

A family therapy treatment plan differs for all families and their specific situations but ultimately can help improve strained relationships, conflict, and dealing with difficult emotions. Family therapy can involve both individual and group therapy. Sessions and who is attending them may change over the course of the treatment plan.

Treatment at Alina Lodge

Alina Lodge is an exceptional treatment center for individuals battling addiction and their loved ones. We are considered to be among the top residential treatment programs in the United States and offer a diverse range of effective treatment options. We treat a range of substance use disorders that are treated with quality care, individualized treatment programs, and positive results.

We understand that one of the most challenging aspects of addiction is the impact it has on families. Our family therapy program gives our patients and their family members a deeper understanding of these effects, allowing the space and time to deal with conflicts and teaching coping strategies to practice when a crisis may arise.

If you or someone you love is battling with a substance use disorder, our team at Alina Lodge can give you the tools needed to take your life back from alcohol and drug addiction so you are able to continue living a happy and healthy lifestyle. Contact us today to see how we can help you.

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