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Understanding the Impact of Substance Abuse on Families

Understanding the Impact of Substance Abuse on Families
August 28, 2023
by admin
person leaning against the wall

While substance abuse dramatically affects the person dealing with addiction, many people overlook its impact on family members. The person using substances tends to experience a wide range of negative things, such as losing their job, health issues, legal problems, and financial troubles. This is extremely overwhelming and is bound to have an impact on the person’s family or loved ones.

When you see someone you love struggling with an alcohol or drug problem, it tends to affect your emotional, financial, and psychological well-being. This applies to spouses, parents, and children and affects how all family members live.

Substance use disorders affect different family members in different ways, whether safety-wise, relationship-wise, or financially. Children who deal with parental substance abuse tend to grow up with a lack of safety, guidance, and support. However, parents with children suffering from addiction tend to face emotional and financial strain. Spouses and siblings of addicts also have their own unique set of challenges.

Substance Abuse and Familial Relationships

Financial trouble, strained relationships, and fear are only some of the ways addiction affects the family. However, with that being said, not every family will experience the same effects since each family has a different dynamic. Regardless of the family dynamic in your home, you can’t deny that alcohol or drug abuse affects family members.

According to The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, drug use leads to distress and other problems. Any family member would be affected by seeing their loved one struggle.

While some family members may withdraw and distance themselves from the person with the substance use disorder, others might try to take a more proactive approach and try to get the addict to stop. However, it’s also common for some people to take a neutral stance and act like everything is okay. Since this can be highly overwhelming and delicate, there is no right or wrong answer.

How Addiction Affects Parents

This is a unique situation with its own set of challenges. Parents that have a child dealing with a substance use disorder are constantly concerned about their child’s well-being and safety. This also takes a huge mental toll on the parent as they’re often left wondering where they went wrong or blame themselves for their child’s situation.

It is excruciating for a parent to watch their child suffer or deal with something with such devastating consequences. The constant worry placed on parents can lead to mental issues, such as anxiety and depression. Other parents might try to support their child financially, hoping it will cause their child to change. Most of the time, this extra financial burden puts the parent in a tough spot financially.

Lastly, some parents take on more of an enabling and overbearing role, constantly monitoring, checking up on, and doing things for their child. While this may seem helpful at the moment, it often results in the child being overly dependent on their parent later in life.

How Addiction Affects Children

Unfortunately, it’s very common for children to have parents with a substance use disorder. This can be extremely traumatic for a child and has different implications depending on their living situation. Generally speaking, the effects differ depending on whether the child comes from a single-parent or two-parent home and whether one or both of their parents struggle with drug or alcohol abuse.

Most of the time, children living with one parent feel very lonely as they don’t have anyone to turn to. Similarly, this happens when the child’s parents struggle with addiction.

When a child lives with both parents, and only one of the parents has an issue, it’s slightly easier to deal with because the other parent is there to offer support and control the situation. While it is still confusing and frightening, there is still another parent to guide them, steer them in the right direction, and help them cope.

The child often becomes insecure because of the secrecy, instability, and unpredictable environment they have to grow up in. They experience a severe lack of emotional and physical support and often take on the parental role. Apart from insecurity, this can lead to a lack of self-confidence, social skills and development, health issues, and other mental disorders.

Furthermore, these children are more prone to experiencing violence and child abuse, which has long-lasting and traumatic effects on a person.

How Addiction Affects Siblings

When there is a drug addict in the family, many people tend to ignore the impact it has on their sibling. However, this is a big mistake as siblings are severely affected by seeing their brother or sister struggle with a substance use disorder.

Most of the time, siblings experience a whirlwind of emotions, including shame, resentment, frustration, confusion, etc. They may also feel abandoned by their parent because the parent is often hyper-focused on the child battling addiction. Therefore, the sibling often feels betrayed by everyone in the family and may develop their mental health disorders, such as depression, and feel unseen.

This could result in different circumstances. Firstly, the sibling might also turn to drug use to get some of their parent’s attention or escape the wave of emotions they’re feeling, including pain. Alternatively, the sibling could decide that they would never touch drugs or alcohol after seeing the impact it had on their brother or sister and the problems it caused.

kid holding a papercutting

The Impact of Drug Abuse on Family Members

The exact impact of drug abuse on a person’s family depends on who has the substance use disorder, whether the children live with their parents, their age, and more. While each family will experience something different, the most common impacts include:

Increased Risk of Abuse

Anyone struggling with addiction becomes unpredictable and often gets aggressive. This is often a result of the drugs or alcohol, withdrawal symptoms, or other co-occurring mental disorders caused by addiction.

When they get angry or emotional while under the influence, they tend to lash out at their family in the form of physical, emotional, or sexual assault.

Financial Difficulty

Drug habits are not cheap; therefore, addicts spend all their money on drugs or alcohol. They often struggle to keep a job and ask their family for support in the form of shelter, food, and money. Often, they might also ask for help with treatment, such as behavioral therapies and paying health care providers for medical attention. Most families are happy to take on this financial burden if it means getting their loved ones back.

Broken Families

Addiction tears families apart because it pushes everyone to their limits. Families can only take so much if the person struggling refuses to get help or make changes. The addict may feel abandoned or betrayed, cutting their family off for years.

More Addiction

The situation might be too overwhelming for some family members, causing them to turn to addiction too. This is especially true for children or siblings who follow in the addict’s footsteps. Substance abuse is also something that generally runs in families; therefore, it’s highly likely that more than one person will turn to it. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, people turn to drugs for many reasons, and seeing a loved one go through it is one of those reasons.

Mental Illness

Dealing with a loved one with a substance use disorder is extremely draining and traumatic. Therefore, the family member will often develop a mental health disorder, such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The best thing to do in this situation is to speak to a mental health professional or seek other types of mental health services through support groups.

Family Members of Addicts Can Also Get Help!

Feeling confused, hurt, and overwhelmed is normal when you have a family member battling addiction. However, don’t give up hope. There are various treatment options, and Sober Living Austin – Ascension House is one of them.

We can help your family deal with the situation as we provide comprehensive drug addiction treatment programs. Furthermore, we offer support to families in the form of phone calls and family therapy. We’ll help your family work through the pain, reconnect with your struggling loved one, and restore your family dynamic to a healthy one.


What Are the Effects of Substance Abuse on the Family and the Community?

There are numerous effects, such as conflict, emotional burden, frustration, embarrassment, guilt, shame, judgment, fear, worry, anger, abandonment, and more.

What Are Three Ways Children Can Be Impacted by Addiction in a Family?

Addiction in a family often has the following impact on children:
1. Attachment and mental disorders
2. Prevented growth
3. Insecurity and loneliness

What Are the Risk Factors for Substance Abuse in the Family?

Five common risk factors include:
1. Mental illness
2. Family history of addiction
3. Violence and abuse
4. Rejection
5. Lack of family involvement