The Many Ways Addiction Affects the Family
Battling a substance use disorder is viewed by many as a personal experience. Because harmful substances have devastating effects on the user, many may not take into consideration other people directly involved—how addiction affects the family. Spouses, children, and parents who witness a family member struggling with addiction experience emotional damage, as well as financial, legal, medical, and other consequences.
The effects of drug and alcohol addiction can be both short-term and long-term. Peaceful, loving homes can be divided by the strain caused by drug and alcohol abuse. Conflict becomes normal as family members fight to engage in a son or daughter who abuses heroin, for example. Trust begins to erode. Relatives may become more guarded if a relative abusing illicit substances acts with aggression or hides their disorder in secrecy. Marriages can end due to changes caused by addiction. Communication becomes more difficult, highlighting frustration.
Family members see their relative endure side effects of drugs or fly into rages when under the influence of alcohol. Others may see their relatives lose weight rapidly, becoming unrecognizable. Some may not hear from a loved one for an extended period of time, only to discover they are living on the street or have fatally overdosed. Such shock can cause a relative to endure severe trauma or develop unhealthy coping mechanisms like codependent behaviors in response.
How Addiction Impacts Young Children
According to Psychology Today, 1 in 5 children grow up in a home where a parent abuses drugs or alcohol. Witnessing the trauma of a parent suffering addiction at a young age has long-term effects on the child. Children growing up seeing a parent addicted to drugs or alcohol are more likely to develop substance use disorders in their adulthood. They are also 3 times more likely being neglected, physically, and sexually abused. Seeing a parent on drugs often creates distressing emotions which not only create delays in learning and development, but pronged mental and emotional disorders.
Since children are still developing their personalities and are vulnerable to external influences, they run the risk of repeating such behaviors. Children may be exposed to aggression or violent behavior due to a parent or both parent’s drug use. Arguments between parents may be normal, causing the child emotional distress as they witness family members fighting.
Early exposure to a home divided by drug use can cause the child to feel emotionally and physically neglected and unsafe. As a result, they can become more mentally and emotionally unstable. Children may develop extreme guilt and self-blame for a parent’s substance abuse. They may develop feelings of unworthiness for disturbances around the home or develop dysfunctional attachments in their adulthood. In extreme cases, children can be removed from the home and placed in foster care.
Teenage Addiction Affects the Family
The CDC reports underaged drinkers have more drinks per drinking occasion than their adult counterparts. At least 19% of individuals between 12 to 20 years old drink alcohol regularly, but due to underreporting the figure is most likely much higher. Marijuana use is more common in teens than cigarette smoking and other drug use. Teenagers deal with peer pressure in school and are also constantly bombarded with temptation for trying new or dangerous drugs.
Many are still impressionable while forming their identity. Additionally, teens who have experienced parental substance abuse are more likely to abuse substances in adulthood. Much of the cause of teenage addiction can stem from external (peer pressure in school) and internal factors (genetics and self-medication).
Substances like cocaine can over-stimulate teens, causing to them sleep less and perform poorly in school or hang out with friends who abuse substances. Prescription opioids and synthetic opioids may produce euphoric effects, but consequently require frequent use with damaging side effects.
These causes have direct impact on family dynamics such as:
- Side effects
- Strained relationships
- Financial hardships
- Poor school performance
- Exposure to other drugs
- Reckless behavior within the home
- Stealing money from parents to support their habit
- Running away from home
- Causing parental grief
Teens can become overwhelmed by addictive substances and strained relationships at home and may want to run away from home. Parental distress can seemingly push troubled teens into the arms of a substance to “escape”. Above all, once a teen runs away from home, they are vulnerable to sexual, economical, and emotional exploitation.
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College Addiction Affects the Family
Teens who abuse substances are more likely to continue their substance use disorders into college. Once teens have an early exposure to drugs, they often form a tolerance and addiction in their college years. Many will continue to “party” and indulge in illicit substances, consequently finding it difficult to slow down. College campuses report high numbers of sexual assaults, property damage, and aggression directly linked to alcohol abuse. Signs of substance abuse impacting college students include:
- Mood swings
- Creating conflict and irritability
- Creating anxiety in parents’ minds
- Lowered inhibitions
- Inability to handle college commitments
Substance abuse disorders can take a toll on family members and the individual struggling with addition. Luckily, there is help available. Treatment providers can guide family members to the best treatment facility focusing on their relative’s healing needs. Various facilities allow sober relatives to visit family members in rehab to receive counseling and maintain relationships. Patients can heal with therapy options, medication and professional support.
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If a relative is crying out for help with substance abuse, please contact a provider today and help rebuild your relationships.