The Many Ways Addiction Affects The Family

Battling a substance use disorder (SUD) is viewed by many as a personal experience. Because harmful substances have devastating effects on the user, many may not take into consideration the other people involved. Spouses, children, and parents may all be impacted by the way addiction affects the family.

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 with a loved one 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 may 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 that they are living on the street or have fatally overdosed. Such shocks can cause a relative to endure severe trauma or develop unhealthy coping mechanisms like codependent behaviors in response.

Support For The Family

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Addiction affects not only the person with the substance use disorder, but everyone around them as well. Dr. Ashish Bhatt, MD discusses the pervasive nature of addiction, and what those closest to someone who is using can do to help.

How Addiction Impacts Young Children

According to Psychology Today, 1 in 5 children grows up in a home where a parent abuses drugs or alcohol. Witnessing the trauma of a parent suffering from addiction at a young age has long-term effects on the child. Children who grow up seeing a parent addicted to drugs or alcohol are more likely to develop SUDs in their adulthood. They are also 3 times more likely to be neglected or physically and/or sexually abused. Seeing a parent on drugs often invokes distressing emotions which not only create delays in learning and development but can also lead to 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’s drinking. 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 a 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 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 and 20 years old drink alcohol regularly; due to underreporting, the figure is most likely much higher. Marijuana use is more common in teens than cigarette smoking. Teenagers deal with peer pressure in school and are also constantly bombarded with temptation.

Many are still impressionable while forming their identity. Additionally, teens who have experienced parental substance abuse are more likely to abuse substances in adulthood. Teenage addiction stems from both external factors (like peer pressure in school) and internal factors (like genetics).

Substances like cocaine can over-stimulate teens, causing to them sleep less and perform poorly in school. Opioids may produce euphoric effects, but consequently require frequent use with damaging side effects.

When one member is addicted, the family as a whole can be negatively impacted by phenomena such as:

  • Exposure to other drugs
  • Reckless behavior within the home
  • Stealing money to support a 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. Running away from home makes a teen vulnerable to sexual, economic, and emotional exploitation.

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College Addiction Affects The Family

Teens who abuse substances are more likely to continue to struggle with their SUDs well 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, finding it difficult to slow down. College campuses report high frequencies of sexual assault, property damage, and aggression directly linked to alcohol abuse. Signs of substance abuse impacting college students include:

  • Mood swings
  • Irresponsible or out-of-character behavior
  • New groups of friends
  • Money problems
  • Lowered inhibitions
  • Inability to handle college commitments

Re-Establishing Connections

SUDs can take a toll on family members and on the individual struggling with addiction. Luckily, there is help available. Treatment providers can answer questions that family members may have. 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 support from professionals.

If you or a loved one want more information on treatment, contact a treatment provider today to explore your options.