According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 21.5 million people aged 12 years and above had a substance use disorder, including drug and/or alcohol addictions. Substance abuse and addiction exert a huge impact on the family life of countless individuals who suffer from the devastating effects of these addictions. Far too many of these people do not receive the help they need in order to overcome these problems in their daily lives and subsequently, their families suffer alongside of them.
How Does Addiction Affect Family Life?
When a family member has a drug or alcohol addiction, they have a disease that has the power to affect and hurt their entire family, including parents, children, brothers, sisters, grandparents, or any family member who is a part of their life. An addiction can cause tension, miscommunication, and more frequent arguments within a household, raising the stress levels and negativity off all who are within this unhealthy atmosphere.
The unpredictability of a family member who compulsively takes drugs or drinks alcohol can cause anxiety, emotional pain, stress, and a loss of trust, because that individual often can’t be counted on to follow through with what they say. Job instability, late nights, and erratic and abnormal behavior may all result from an addiction in a way that damages a family’s foundation. The addicted individual can get unfocused, forgetful, or distracted, as more often than not, their mind is solely on their addiction.
Due to these things, surrounding family members may have to take on greater responsibilities, causing even more strain and a variety of negative emotions, like blame, resentment, hate, anger, and even fear. As trust continues to falter, family members are on edge as they strive to stay aware of the different lies their addicted family member may create to explain or deny their behaviors. Together, these situations create an altered and damaged family dynamic.
Damaging Family Ties
No two families are the same in America. From single-parent families, stepfamilies, foster families, and multigenerational families, the family dynamic each addicted individual experiences is vastly different. Because of this, there are numerous, diverse ways that addiction can impact a family and its individual members, including by creating situations of:
Financial instability — A family member may have to be on guard for theft, as addicted individuals may steal money or valuables to pawn in an attempt to finance their addiction. A person may not be able to fulfill their job responsibilities due the effects of their addiction, to the extent that they lose their job. If this happens, their family may suffer from lack of heat, food, electricity, or even a roof over their heads. In other cases, they may not have money for these essentials, as they spent it on drugs or alcohol.
Isolation — Drugs and alcohol exert a heavy influence on a person’s cognitive functioning, judgement, and sense of inhibition, thus the addicted family member may say and/or do things which can greatly embarrass a family, to the extent that they withdraw from family or social activities, causing an extreme sense of isolation. Some family members may also choose to distance themselves from their addicted loved one, due to this embarrassment or an inability to cope with the situation.
Enabling — A hallmark of addiction within a family dynamic, enabling behaviors allow the addicted individual to continue forward in their destructive patterns of abuse, due to the way a family member’s actions protect them from the consequences. Many times, the enabler will actually feel as if they’re helping the person, when in reality they are perpetuating the addiction by not allowing their loved one to experience the harmful results of their addictive behaviors.
Codependency — This dysfunctional relationship is very commonplace within families and heavily linked to patterns of enabling. Oxford Dictionaries defines it as “Excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically one with an illness or addiction who requires support.” Essentially, the family member without the addiction begins to draw their sense of self-worth by becoming reliant on their role of providing care for their addicted loved one.Struggles for adult children — Some adults may become dependent on the relationship of their grown children in an unhealthy way. This can create a harmful dynamic for everyone involved, to the extent that it inhibits both the adult child’s ability to effectively live their own life in a fulfilling and productive way and the parent’s capacity for fully focusing on their own concerns. This may occur if the parent or child suffers from the addiction.
Continuing familial damage — A SAMHSA publication, “Substance Abuse Treatment and Family Therapy,” informs us that the negative repercussions of addiction within a family can linger for many generations. Specifically that “Intergenerational effects of substance abuse can have a negative impact on role modeling, trust, and concepts of normative behavior, which can damage the relationships between generations.” In example, a child raised by a parent who has an addiction may end up being an overbearing parent who doesn’t allow their children independence or freedom of expression.
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The Devastating Impact On Children
If a parent or family member has an addiction it greatly impacts children of all ages, and they commonly suffer or get hurt in some respect. When a person has an addiction, they may forget to care for the needs of their child, as the pursuit of finding and using more substances or the resulting illness these substances may cause, may detract from their responsibilities. The absence of the parent in the child’s life can create problems, as they may no longer be attuned to their child’s needs. They may fail to provide basic and necessary care, such as providing or preparing meals, keeping their child clean, or attending to any other important needs such as schoolwork or concerns of social problems.
A child may be forced to care for these essential needs for either themselves or their siblings on their own. According to the SAMHSA publication, these behaviors may be even more prevalent in children of single-parent households, to the extent that “children are likely to behave in a manner that is not age‐appropriate to compensate for the parental deficiency.” What this essentially means, is that they may create a wall of denial to keep themselves from dealing with the reality of their parent’s addiction, by attempting to step up and act as the role of the parent, provider, or caregiver.
Safety is also a huge concern for these children, as an addicted individual may not be focused or aware enough to keep their children from accidents or other adults who may wish their children harm. They may not also be attuned enough to take action and get help, should these events arise. If criminal activities are committed within the child’s home, such as dealing drugs, a child experiences the risk of their parent ending up behind bars. In more severe cases, the child may be forced to take part in these criminal acts, in a way that damages their trust, jeopardizes their lives, and causes them to live in an even greater state of fear and instability.
Substance abuse and addiction has been implicated in an increased risk of child abuse. Subsequently, children of abuse have been shown to have greater rates of substance use disorders later in life. Paired with the fact that a child of an addicted individual may already face increased rates of addiction, this detrimental environment may be altering their life for the long term. As the child grows up with these constant fears and problems, their emotional and mental health may be compromised in a way that impacts their schooling, self-confidence, social development, and overall health and well-being.
What Are Some Of The Effects On Parent-Child Relationships?
Beyond the aforementioned ways, an addiction can actually shape the way a parent interacts with their child and vice versa; these behaviors may manifest with children of any age, including adults. The SAMHSA publication speaks of various negative or harmful patterns that may be prevalent within a family when a parent or child suffers from an addiction. They include:
- Negativism — Family members primarily communicate in a way that is geared towards creating a negative and harmful environment, by complaining, condemning, or making other disparaging remarks towards each other. An atmosphere can hover over the household and positive reinforcement is often overlooked. In some cases, the only way to get any attention is to create an emotional upheaval, which further strengthens the negative cycle of drug or alcohol abuse.
- Parental inconsistency — If a parent or child is addicted, the child can become confused if boundaries are not set, rules are not clearly delineated, and discipline is not enforced, creating a rocky family structure. Because of this lack of clarity, a child may act out to see if their parents will give them a sense of stability by putting up better boundaries. As SAMHSA points out, the importance of these perimeters are immense, as they state “Without known limits, children cannot predict parental responses and adjust their behavior accordingly.”
- Parental denial — When faced with clear indicators of abuse or addiction, a parent may still exhibit patterns of denial, asserting that there is no cause for concern and that their child does not have a problem. These mindsets may continue even after various authorities attempt to counter this perception with evidence.
- Miscarried expression of anger — A child or a parent who develops strong emotions towards their toxic and emotionally unstable home life may find that they are unable or fearful of demonstrating their deep anger. As they suppress these feelings, they may sometimes turns to drugs or alcohol to deal with their own pent up thoughts or emotions.
- Self‐medication — This is when a parent or a child further opens the door for drug or alcohol abuse, as they continue to self-medicate in an attempt to deal with the emotions or mental health concerns that may result from this environment.
- Unrealistic parental expectations — If a child is confronted with unattainable, high expectations from their parents, the child may shun their responsibilities by citing that they are unable to fulfill them due to their addiction. On the other hand, they may exhaust themselves trying to surpass their parent’s expectations, as they feel that they are never able to please their parents or fulfill their hopes. In other circumstances, if a parent expects too little and a child is constantly told they won’t succeed, the child may fall prey to the negative projections their parents constantly spoke over them.
As you can see, in the face of addiction, the parent-child dynamic can be drastically and detrimentally altered, calling for a positive intervention that can initiate healing of the strained family unit.
Many times people who are addicted don’t even realize or believe they are causing such havoc within their families. Unfortunately, they don’t often view themselves as sick or suffering from a problem, so they don’t reach out for help or treatment. Because of this, they many times don’t see with open eyes the issues they are creating with their loved ones, whereas family members may be very aware of the intensity and scope of the problem. Sadly, some family members may be so drained, discouraged, confused, or unsure of how to talk to a person with an addiction, that they don’t reach out for help. It doesn’t have to be this way. Fortunately, a variety of treatment programs exist that encompass family therapy and support, to help you rebuild and nurture your family.
Reach Out For Help
If you or your family is suffering from an addiction problem, please contact us today for help. Reach out and receive the support that’s needed and help not only yourself but future generations. Contact us at DrugRehab.org today.Sources
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration - Behavioral Health Trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health
National Institute on Drug Abuse - Drug Use Hurts Kids
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration - Core Competencies for Clergy and Other Pastoral Ministers in Addressing Alcohol and Drug Dependence and the Impact on Family Members
The National Center for Biotechnology Information - Substance Abuse Treatment and Family Therapy: Chapter 2 Impact of Substance Abuse on Families