Substance addiction doesn’t just affect the abuser-it hurts everyone who cares about them. If someone you love is addicted to drugs or alcohol, you’re also likely suffering from the consequences of their addiction in a number of ways. It’s critical that family members of substance abusers understand addiction, its impact on loved ones, and how to cope with those addictions and the effects on family. Understanding your own feelings and needs is an important part of healing yourself and family relationships in the wake of a family member’s addiction. When your loved one starts their journey toward recovery, having healthy coping techniques will help you interact with your entire family in a positive and healing way.
When someone suffers from a drug or alcohol addiction, they are unable to stop using the substance even though it is causing them problems. While they may intellectually understand the damage they are doing to themselves and those around them, they feel a compulsive need to continue their behavior despite these consequences. Many will even insist they don’t have a problem as denial is a hallmark of drug abuse and alcoholism. Research indicates that addiction a disease with biological components and many other contributing variables. A host of physiological, cultural, and personal factors may contribute to an individual’s substance dependence. Addiction is a cumulative disease. As the user is preoccupied with thoughts of using, they become increasingly physically and mentally dependent on the substance over time as they develop a tolerance that requires an ever-greater amount of the illicit substance to even function at a normal level. Stopping the behavior results in withdrawal symptoms that are difficult to withstand compared to the gratification and relief they get from using. This compulsion results in behavior that can adversely and greatly affect those around them.
- What is Addiction?
- Symptoms and Diagnosis of Substance Abuse
- Women and Substance Addiction
- Drug and Alcohol Abuse Facts
The Effect of Addiction on Family Members
When a family member has a drug or alcohol addiction, it can affect the entire family. There are both acute and chronic problems that often stem from a family member’s drug or alcohol addiction. Some damage is easy to see and measure. For example, there may be clear and immediate damage due to conflicts over money spent on drugs or alcohol, episodes of erratic behavior, physical or emotional domestic violence, and dealing with the health problems created by substance abuse. There are also more insidious types of damage suffered by family members as the entire family and family dynamics are affected by the substance abuser’s behavior. Families often fall into patterns of co-dependency and enable the substance abuser’s habit out of love or desperation to prevent further harm. Relationships are eroded through feelings of jealousy, resentment, anger, and fear as other needs are ignored due to the chaos caused by the substance abuser. These problems can all cause a breakdown of the family structure and cause severe emotional damage to loved ones. Families may also see generational patterns of substance abuse as others are influenced by the behavior or seek out drugs or alcohol in order to cope with these problems.
- Parental Substance Abuse and Children
- Substance Abuse and Families Fact Sheet (PDF)
- The Relationship between Substance Abuse and Family Violence (PDF)
- Alcoholism and Family Members
Coping with a Loved One’s Addiction
Just as the substance abuser requires treatment, affected loved ones require support to overcome the possible effects of caring about someone with a substance addiction. Even if the substance abuser receives treatment or is no longer a part of the picture, the harm to the family remains. It’s now recognized that the entire family likely requires help to heal from the trauma of substance abuse and learn new patterns of healthy behavior. Family therapy and education can help families weather the effects of addiction and the challenges of moving forward through recovery. Learning to cope with a loved one’s addiction can help families break free of unhealthy behavior like co-dependency and discover how to take care of their own emotional health by recognizing signs of post-traumatic stress disorder and other emotional issues that have gone untreated due to the overwhelming nature of the substance abuser’s problems. Seeking treatment for the whole family can help prevent the likelihood of others turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms as family members learn how to voice their own needs and maintain healthy boundaries.
- Addiction Treatment and Family Therapy
- Family Healing: Alcohol and Drug Abuse
- Repairing the Familial Effects of Addiction (PDF)
- Breaking the Co-Dependency Cycle