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How Addiction Affects the Family

Many people see battling addiction as a personal problem. In addition to the devastating effects harmful substances have on the user, many do not consider how addiction can affect others directly involved, including their families. When a family member struggles with addiction, spouses, children, and parents suffer emotional damage in addition to financial, legal, medical, and other consequences.

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Addiction is a disease that affects one’s mind, body, spirit, and social circle. How addiction affects the family varies from person to person.

For some, it may be an inconvenience. For others, addiction may be destroying their marriage and relationships with their loved ones.

For those who have not been touched by addiction personally, they might not understand how devastating it can really be-which makes this blog post so important! We will explore how addiction impacts the family as well as provide tips on how to heal after being affected by addiction in your life.

At the end of the post, we’ll also go over treatment and support options for someone suffering with addiction. Keep reading to learn more!

Substance Abuse: How Big Is the Problem?

To start with understanding where we should be focusing our attention, let’s learn about substance abuse in America first. What is substance abuse, who suffers from it most often, and why is the issue so difficult to tackle? Statistics show how big of an epidemic drug use has become.

In 2014, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that one out of ten adults aged 12 and older used an illicit drug in the past 30 days. This was a higher rate than in any previous year since 2002.

Increased marijuana use and the nonmedical use of prescription medications are also primary reasons for this spike in substance abuse. Examples of medications include Vicodin, Percocet, OxyContin, and fentanyl.

There is also widespread alcohol abuse in American households. According to 2014 data also from NSDUH, 16.3 million adults age 12 and older said that they were heavy drinkers; 60.9 described themselves as “binge drinkers.”

As defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), binge drinking is defined as consuming four to five alcoholic beverages within two hours. The NIAAA defines heavy drinking as consuming five alcoholic beverages within the past month on five or more consecutive days.

Underage Drinking

It’s no secret that teenagers and young adults often experiment with alcohol. The consequences of underage drinking can be more severe than most think. Underage drinking can lead to risky sexual behavior and violence and alcohol dependence or addiction.

It also has many other negative effects on their developing brains. Examples include memory loss and addiction to drugs or alcohol later in life when they become adolescents or adults.

In spite of the decline in alcohol abuse among young adults age 12-20, the NSDUH found that there is still a problem of underage drinking in the US.

Drinking in the US

  • 22.8% of underage Americans in this study reported current alcohol use
  • 13.8% engaged in binge drinking
  • 3.4% engaged in heavy drinking

The NSDUH study also found that about two-thirds of 12 to 20-year-olds who reported drinking alcohol in the past month had done so at least once with someone else’s parents’ permission. This is a sign that parents need to have more open conversations with their children about alcohol. Parents need to pay more attention to what they are doing regardless of how old they are.

Substance Use Disorder

In substance use disorders, the use of drugs or alcohol negatively affects one or more aspects of an individual’s life. When considering the families and partners of these individuals, the numbers become even more staggering. Each individual abusing alcohol or drugs affects a partner, spouse, child, parent, or sibling.

An estimated 21.5 million Americans aged 12 and older have a substance use disorder or addiction. Out of this number, 17.1 million abused illicit drugs, and 17 million abused alcohol. An estimated 2.6 million of them were addicted to both drugs and alcohol.

Detecting the Signs of Addiction

Everyone is capable of keeping secrets, no matter how well they think they know the people we love. How we react and how often people experience certain behaviors can help in the detection of addiction.

Addiction can manifest itself in a diverse range of ways, ranging from obvious to subtle. Signs of addiction can appear in an individual’s appearance, behavior, mood, mental function, career status, or finances. It is crucial for families to understand how addictions affect interpersonal relationships. Addiction can destroy previously strong bonds, creating a sense of distrust and betrayal.

It is important to be aware of changes in mood, behavior, or other red flags that show a loved one’s addiction may need attention. How family members are reacting to their addicted loved one’s condition also gives clues about what might be going on and if they’re hiding it well enough.

For instance, an addict will usually crave more drugs than usual before beginning withdrawal symptoms after use has ended. This could include irritability, anxiety, restlessness, nausea/vomiting, which last for days at a time until they get another dose. It takes someone who knows these signs personally to see them coming from an outside perspective because most addicts have learned how to hide these signs and then deny them if confronted.

Changes That May Indicate Addiction: Checklist for Families

Family members can use the following checklist to identify potential signs of addiction at an early stage. You should always keep in mind that substance abuse is a complex problem that affects many aspects of a person’s life. One or two changes in behavior or appearance don’t necessarily indicate someone is abusing drugs or alcohol.

Conditions like depression, loss of a loved one, job stress, and life transitions also may contribute to these changes. Mental health professionals and addiction counselors can assist the individual in determining if the changes in his or her life are related to chemical dependencies or abuse.

Mood or Emotional

  • Mood swings
    Social Isolation
    Sadness or tearfulness
    Unjustified anger outbursts
    Irrational laughter

Physical Appearance or Health

  • Puffiness or bloating
  • Unwanted weight loss or weight gain
  • Poor grooming or hygiene
  • Pale and cool skin
  • Drowsiness during inappropriate times during the day
  • Tremors
  • Bloodshot eyes

Psychological Changes

  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Delusional thinking
  • Unexplained memory loss

Career or Educational Changes

  • Job termination
  • Poor performance at work
  • Missing work or school
  • Declining grades
  • Neglect or uninterest in favorite school activities

Several of these characteristics can reveal whether or not your loved one may have an addiction. If your loved one has demonstrated a habit of drinking or abusing drugs, it is very likely they will have a problem with the substance abuse.

It’s very common for family members to undermine the problem by blaming outside circumstances. “He’s been stressed at work lately, he’ll stop when this project is over” or “She’s been having a rough time since her divorce” are a couple of examples. However, drug or alcohol abuse that causes destruction indicates that the individual involved, as well as the entire family, needs aid and support in recovery.

How Addiction Affects the Family

Addiction affects every aspect of a family: emotionally, psychologically, financially, and socially. How does addiction affect a family? The answer often depends on the type of substance abuse and who in the family has it.

It’s possible for some members to be completely unaware that someone they love is addicted, which means that their denial can cause more harm than good when trying to get help.

How does addiction affect a family? It might seem like an individual problem at first, but it quickly becomes something much bigger as loved ones are pulled into it too.

Addiction and finances go hand in hand. Alcohol or drug abuse can lead to financial problems, poverty, or bankruptcy. Shame over an intoxicated family member can lead to social isolation, as well as the avoidance of friends or family outside the home.

As a result, substance abuse can create a destructive cycle that triggers extreme cravings for alcohol and drugs that leads to mental instability or even more emotional pain.

In many cases, people with addictions will stop using drugs or alcohol after getting treatment because recovery offers them hope again- not just for themselves but also for other parts of their life where relationships may have been strained or lost altogether.

Addiction and Children

Family dynamics and substance abuse are closely entwined, but children suffer more than any other victim of substance abuse. One of the most devastating effects addiction has on families is its impact on a child’s overall wellbeing.

Parents may be too busy to take care of their kids, or they might have problems taking care of themselves because drugs and alcohol are controlling them. Kids can be neglected when parents spend more time getting high than caring for their home or family.

Addiction and its consequences on family members can last well into adulthood. Even more so when it comes to children with a parent suffering from addiction.

As a result of parent alcoholism and drug addiction, children can suffer from poor self-image, guilt, loneliness, anxiety, chronic depression, fear of abandonment, and feelings of helplessness. Addiction among mothers during pregnancy can also cause serious behavioral or developmental disorders in their children.

At some point in their childhood, one in five adults reported having a relative who was an alcoholic. These individuals are generally at greater risk of developing behavioral and emotional problems when compared to their non-alcoholic counterparts, as these toxic alcoholic family roles are modeled for them.

A child raised by an alcoholic is four times more likely to become an alcoholic than an individual not raised by an alcoholic. They are also more likely to experience problems with stress later in life. There is also a high probability they will marry an alcoholic or abusive spouse later in life.

Addiction and Marriage

Relationships between addicts and their families are difficult, but spouses of addicts could face a greater challenge. How addiction affects a family can be seen in the way spouses may experience more mental and emotional pain, as well as how they could end up being short-changed financially.

Generally speaking, marital relationships are subject to all of life’s ups and downs, but when one partner is an addict, the spouse has little control over what happens at home because addiction often dictates where the person will go or who he/she will spend time with.

There has been a link between addiction and higher divorce rates, and the addiction of one partner can result in the other partner having to shoulder an unfair share of household responsibilities.

A marriage also suffers after addicts relapse because it reaffirms their sense that recovery was never meant for them. This idea can lead to feelings such as resentment, which ultimately causes couples to withdraw from each other. When this occurs, both people suffer emotionally, and there is usually increased anxiety on behalf of both partners.


Alcohol and drug abuse can lead to codependency in families, a problem that is often encountered by spouses of addicts. Codependency is the psychological need to be in an emotionally and usually physically abusive relationship.

It means that one person, often the spouse of the addict, loses their sense of self while they focus on looking after someone else’s needs. They do this even if it is detrimental to their own self.

Often, codependents will defend or make excuses for addicts and act in ways that do not insight rage in order to remain in their good graces. Originally, this term was usually used in reference to wives of alcoholics and drug addicts who were dependent on their spouses for financial support.

Codependents are often spouses, but anyone in a long-term relationship with an addict can become dependent on them.

What If Both Spouses Have an Addiction?

Both spouses being addicted to drugs or alcohol may not increase the likelihood of divorce, but the atmosphere in the household will be more toxic because of it. A relationship with one sober partner can at least attempt to keep order in the home and encourage the addicted to seek help. In a relationship with two addicts, each partner is enabling the other, feeding off of each other’s addiction.

A relationship that is stricken by addiction will slowly deteriorate, as both addicts will be more interested in feeding their addictions than managing the relationship or taking care of household duties.

Parents of Someone Suffering From Addiction

90% of Americans who meet the criteria for addiction were under 18 when they begin smoking, drinking, or using drugs. Parents who discover their children have alcohol or drug addictions are often stung by a rude awakening, no matter how old they are.

How will their family function if their children are not sober? Parents of addicts and alcoholics may question their parenting abilities or decisions they’ve made. Much like children of addicts, parents may blame themselves for their child’s addiction.

Some parents find it necessary to set boundaries for the addicted child. They may refuse access to certain substances, forbid them from leaving the house unsupervised without an escort or make any other decision that will help the parent maintain some sense of control in this situation.

Parents who choose to let their child live at home while struggling with addiction often feel as though they’re walking on eggshells and under constant pressure. Many worry about how bad things will get when they finally reach peak withdrawal symptoms.

Parents of Adult Children

When a teenager or adolescent struggles with addiction, the issue can seem more dangerous. This is because the child is not fully mature and has so many years ahead of their life.

Even if parents have teens or adolescents who suffer from addiction, they have some control over their finances and household. This control can stage an intervention and convince them to enter treatment,

However, parents of adult addicts are often unable to impose consequences on their child for substance abuse or refusal to seek treatment. A parent’s inabilities are even greater if they live apart from their adult child.

Addiction and Friendships and Extended Family

Losing friendships and relationships is a hallmark of addiction. It occurs because the addict isolates themself from others in order to spend more time indulging in their substance of choice.

In addition to losing interest in activities they loved, it is also common for them to withdraw from people they love. They may withdraw from friends, extended family, and even their siblings.

There are many ways addiction can negatively impact friends and family.

Examples include:

  • The person’s loved ones can become caregivers, which can be draining and stressful
  • Loved ones might feel self-blame, damaging their self-esteem
  • A person suffering from drug or alcohol addiction may lose contact with his or her friends and family entirely
  • Inebriation or withdrawal cause argumentative and belligerent behavior, resulting in heated exchanges

Domestic and Sexual Abuse: Linked to Addiction

Substance abuse and family relationships are also connected by various types of trauma and abuse. Drugs and alcohol have been found to be involved in a large number of child abuse and domestic abuse cases. According to other studies, people who suffered abuse were more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol.

As a result, children whose parents suffer from addiction will likely endure some sort of domestic or sexual abuse resulting in trauma, which will then increase their risk of abusing drugs or alcohol. A

cycle of domestic violence and addiction is likely to occur if they have children as well. If this sounds like something that is happening in your family, our treatment can help end this vicious cycle.

How Can I Help a Family Member Overcome Addiction?

The addiction of a loved one can be difficult to handle. How do you help someone who doesn’t want your assistance? How can you step in when they are unable to take care of themselves or their family? How should I go about helping my loved one get clean and sober if this is something they don’t even want it for themselves?

One way that people have found success with addiction recovery is by attending 12-step meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Cocaine Anonymous, and Alateen. These groups offer peer support as well as the option of professional guidance from trained sponsors.

If the addiction has become detrimental, inpatient rehabilitation may be the best option for your loved one. Our Southern California Recovery Centers’ programs use a combination of traditional and holistic approaches.

We treat both the mind and body, aiming to restore balance to our patients’ lives. We offer addiction treatment as well as aftercare and initial drug and alcohol detox.

To reach recovery, one must detox from drugs and alcohol. This process can be painful, and it often comes with dangerous consequences. Detox lays the foundation for long-term recovery when it is done properly.

We strive to make every step of the process as comfortable as possible for our patients. Real rehabilitation begins after detox. The most effective rehabs include inpatient stays of at least four weeks.

Here are some of the treatment options and services:

  • Dual-diagnosis
  • Group therapy
  • 12-step programs
  • Yoga and fitness
  • One-on-one psychotherapy
  • Family and couples therapy
  • Medication management
  • Creative arts therapy
  • Guided meditation
  • Medication-assisted treatment

How Addiction Affects the Family: Ending the Cycle

A substance abuse disorder is a devastating disease. We hope this post gave you more insight into how addiction affects the family in several ways. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, please contact us immediately so we can help get them back on track to a happy life.

Together we will find treatment and support for your loved ones which may be just what they need to overcome their struggles once and for all. Let’s work together towards recovery!

References & Resources

  1. Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2015). Behavioral health trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (HHS Publication No. SMA 15-4927, NSDUH Series H-50). Retrieved from http://www.samhsa.gov/data/
  2. Drinking Levels Defined. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/moderate-binge-drinking
  3. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings, NSDUH Series H-48, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 14-4863. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2014. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/report/results-2013-national-survey-drug-use-and-health-summary-national-findings-and-detailed
  4. Homish, G. G., Leonard, K. E., & Cornelius, J. R. (2008, February). Illicit drug use and marital satisfaction. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2259284/
  5. Underage Drinking. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/underage-drinking