Addiction is not a self-contained disease. Even when individuals with a substance abuse disorder (SUD) isolate themselves, thinking they aren’t hurting anyone (perhaps other than themselves), the negative behaviors and consequences still impact those around them.
Think of what happens when you pour water into a potted plant. The water doesn’t simply stay on the topmost layer of soil. It reaches down into the deeper depths of the pot, extending to the roots, spreading throughout the container. It’s because of this spread of (often negative) outcomes, why addiction is a family issue. No matter how much a person with a SUD thinks his/her behavior doesn’t impact anyone else, the truth is, that it seeps into many areas of life—including the lives of family members.
You may be wondering how much addiction affects families? One study revealed that 46% of American adults have shared they had a family member or close friend who was addicted to drugs (or had been in the past.) Another study, conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported that 1 in 10 children—7.5 million—lived in a household with at least one parent who had an alcohol use disorder (AUD). And, 1 in 35 children—2.1 million—lived with a parent with an illicit drug disorder (within the past year).
Whether someone happens to be the child, parent, sibling, aunt, uncle, grandparent, or another family member of a loved one with a SUD, the physical, emotional, and mental impacts can be far-reaching. If your loved one’s behaviors from substance abuse have made you feel worried, exhausted, angry, sad, and/or exasperated, you are not alone.
At Futures Recovery Healthcare we help people with addiction and their families, by providing comprehensive treatment options for substance abuse as well as co-occurring disorders (such as anxiety, depression, and more). Our goal is to help both peoples with SUDs and their family members establish life-long steps and strategies for healthy sobriety and family-focused healing.
Addiction is a family issue, but it’s one that can successfully be addressed, and with positive outcomes.
How Addiction Impacts Families
Since every family is different, addiction impacts each one differently. There are, however, some common ways that a loved one’s addictive behavior affects the family around them. These can include:
- Emotional issues. As a consequence of their parent being physically, mentally, or emotionally absent (focussed on substance use), children can experience attachment and boundary issues. In turn, this can have lasting emotional repercussions, which include:
- Communication difficulties
- Oppositional disorders
Family members also often have trust issues as a result of being lied to, let down, or treated poorly when their loved one is in active addiction. It’s not uncommon for family members to feel abandoned, anxious, fearful, guilty, concerned, and/or embarrassed of their loved one’s substance abuse.
- Family separation. Sometimes a parent will intentionally or unintentionally abandon a child (or children) due to addiction. Other times, a child (or children) may be forcibly removed from a home because of a parent’s addictive behavior. Alternately, a parent of an adult child, a spouse, sibling, or another family member may choose to separate themself from a loved one who is active in addiction.
- Legal problems. One of the biggest legal problems associated with substance abuse is impaired driving. According to research, upwards of one million drivers were arrested in the U.S. for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cites that 29 Americans die every day in motor vehicle crashes involving an alcohol-impaired driver, with the annual cost totaling more than $44 billion dollars.
The financial burden of these legal issues (and others) often falls upon family members—the reason why is listed in our next bullet point.
- Economic hardships. When a person is addicted to drugs, it’s not uncommon for money that was set aside for family priorities to instead be used to buy drugs. This means that the family is then unable to pay the mortgage, rent, bills—or maybe even food and gas for transportation. It’s also not uncommon for people with addiction to lose their jobs—from calling in sick, not showing up at all, making critical errors— which places even more financial stress on the family.
- Violence and abuse. When people are in active addiction, their judgment is impaired and they can become irrational, which can and does trigger violence. A person may become violent if they are inebriated or if they are experiencing withdrawal. They may also become paranoid, lashing out at loved ones for no logical reason. If you have been subjected to any type of violence, it’s important to seek help. There are many shelters and safe houses for family members who are victims of domestic violence.
- Health conditions. People who are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol heighten their risk of developing health conditions. Some of these health problems can be extremely serious. Drug use, for example, carries a highter risk of contracting infections such as HIV and hepatitis C (from sharing needles or practicing unsafe sex).
Other health conditions that addiction is linked to include cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, hepatitis B, lung disease, and mental disorders. When individuals with addiction develop a health condition, it is not uncommon for family members to be tasked with their care. This can include physical and financial caretaking responsibility. And, of course, there are also the emotional impacts family members navigate as the result of their loved ones’ illness.
Again, it’s important to remember that each family is different. Some families may only experience one aspect of the list above. Others may experience all of them. And, still more families, may go through situations not represented here. What is certain is that addiction is a family issue that, however impactful, does have solutions. Prior to exploring how to help family members with addiction, we will explore how addiction affects families generationally.
Does Addiction Run in Families?
In addition to addiction being something that affects the family unit in terms of consequences, outcomes, and disruption, research demonstrates that addiction is linked to family history. For example, research has determined that children who have one or more parents with addiction issues are at higher risk for developing a drug addiction. The reason why is complex.
Some children who live with active addicts can be more prone to behavioral problems, which in turn, increases the risk of exposure to—and opportunities for trying—substances. And, some children may inherit a genetic predisposition for addiction. DNA studies continue to take place to help better understand the role of genetics and addiction.
Helping Families Face Addiction (and Heal)
While addiction has and continues to produce turmoil and even devastation in families across the globe, there are many resources to help people with SUDs and their family members. The first step begins with compassion and understanding—for the person with addiction and for yourself. A substance use disorder is a disease, not something that can be logically explained or a failure on part of the individual. Nor is your loved one’s addiction something for which you must navigate alone.
If your loved one has not responded favorably to your offer to get help, or other family members, you can try to reach out to close friends or a health professional. Your family member may be more receptive to listening to someone they consider more objective.
Many people who seek in-patient treatment for substance abuse are able to maintain a healthy recovery. A professional residential treatment can provide the safety, structure, and expertise needed to ensure your loved one has the tools and resources needed to promote long-term recovery.
While your loved one is in treatment, it’s important for you to practice self-care. Many families have found it helpful to seek therapy, attend support groups (such as Al-Anon), and other recovery-oriented resources. You have likely put your life on hold to help your loved one—or at a minimum spent time worrying about them. One of the best things you can do is placing yourself and your life as a priority.
Most in-patient treatment centers provide opportunities for residents to communicate with family members. If you or a loved one is concerned about whether or not speaking or visiting with family is a good idea, a treatment counselor will help determine the best way to proceed. Often, families find that group-family therapy sessions are helpful. These sessions, led by a licensed therapist offer a safe and structured environment for families to express their feelings and explore avenues of healing—together.
At Futures, we understand the complexities of addiction and family dynamics. We have helped countless families achieve healthy and lasting recovery and reunification. Our licensed recovery professionals have decades of experience in a variety of recovery-focused treatment approaches—including individual and family therapy. We provide comprehensive steps and strategies to encourage lasting recovery from alcohol and drugs, as well as to improve family systems and relationships.
Hope is a phone call away. Contact us confidentially online or by phone at 866-804-2098.