How Substance Abuse Affects Families

Man's hand reaching to glass of tequila or alcohol drink and car key on rustic wooden table

How Substance Abuse Affects Families

It’s common to consider the health and well-being of the user, but substance abuse affects families too. Having a drug addict in the family is devastating in more ways than one. Recent research on addiction treatment revealed that addiction affects not only the addict but his whole family as well. This is similar to a cancer diagnosis hitting not only the patient but his whole network of family and friends.

However, unlike dealing with a loved one who has cancer, addiction has causal and consequential roots to the addict’s family. Neglected children can turn to drugs to compensate for the lack of love at home. The parents or siblings might be drug users themselves, leading to bad influence on the eventual addict.

An Overview of Substance Abuse and Its Effects on Family

When treating addiction, the whole family should be included in the treatment. This even has a name in rehab: family therapy. This is especially true if it’s the family that staged the intervention. This is also the case when family members serve as enablers for the addict. There’s evidence that family programs and family therapy are quite effective in addiction treatment. This shows the strong impact of family ties to drug addiction.

Addiction is a disease for the entire family because alcoholism and drug abuse doesn’t only harm the addict. It can also destroy relationships, particularly in one’s family. Our family is the original relationship all of us have before we branch out and make friends with strangers. However, the major difference is that with friends, you can cut them off or they could cut you off when things get problematic. It’s much more complicated when it comes to family.

Addicts are usually unreliable when it comes to doing what they say they’ll do. In short, you can’t always count on them to keep their word. Their family members tend to pick up the slack when addicts bail out on commitments and responsibilities, resulting in strained relationships. This naturally results in instability and conflict within any given family, no matter how tight it used to be. Family members often end up disappointed and even frustrated with the addict’s behavior.

How Substance Abuse Affects Families

Addiction destroys relationships because the disease takes over the mind and priorities of the addict. He becomes like a zombie that’s controlled by his impulses. This in turn creates emotional turmoil for members of his family. They’re bearing witness to his self-destruction and downward spiral, unable to stop him. They often don’t know what to do next.

Treatment of substance abuse is ideally a family affair. Since addiction is a family disease that has complications which include straining family bonds and relationships, it’s ideal that treatment would involve the entire family. An addict’s family members should attend to him. At the same time, they also need support to overcome this problem. After all, they’re the ones who usually bear the brunt of the fallout from drug abuse and alcoholism.

Emotional Effects of Substance Abuse

A woman with a bottle of alcohol

Different families react to an addicted family member differently. For example, if either the father or the mother is addicted to drugs or alcoholism, this would have a significant financial impact on their family since parents are typically the breadwinners. Such an unfortunate situation would leave the children in dire straits of neglect and/or abuse. This is as opposed to children becoming addicts and parents requiring them to go to rehab in order to get them straightened out.

Regardless, here are the most common ways that drug abuse and alcoholism can affect a family’s emotional states.

  • Negativity Among Family Members: First of all, addiction typically leads to strained relationships. This is because this disease tends to lead to negativity. All communication among family members tends to become stressful and destructive. Resentment and anger can cause the family to lash out at one another or even blame the addict for his situation. Put-downs, criticism, and complaints may become the new normal for this family. This makes everyone involved feel stressed out, pessimistic, and even hopeless.
  • Shame and Denial: No addict wants to be an addict. There’s usually a lot of denial involved because of all the baggage associated with this condition. When a family member becomes an addict, his whole family usually ends up suffering from shame and denial as well. They don’t want to believe that their loved one is an addict. Worse, they might even become enablers. They might say that the addict is just a casual user and his addiction is harmless. They might even assume that denying that the problem exists will make it go away.

Immoral Effects of Substance Abuse

  • Mistrust, Stealing, and Lying: Because the addict is controlled by his own impulses, it’s not surprising if he resorts to lying or even stealing. He’ll do these to keep up the façade that everything is okay even as he goes on a downward spiral of self-destructive consumption and despair. His behavior then results in turmoil, mistrust, and resentment from people closest to him. This is usually his family, since his so-called friends have an easier time of cutting him off.
  • Hiding from the Truth: One of the most destructive things that a family can do when faced with an addicted relative is to be ashamed of them. Even worse (and shockingly common) is denying his existence and/or condition. Unfortunately, it’s a coping mechanism for most families to hide the consequences of their loved one’s addiction. This is particularly true when there’s physical abuse. Family members often develop elaborate denial systems. But the worst possible way of coping is when family members turn to drugs as well.

Financial Effects of Substance Abuse

There’s no doubt that alcohol and drugs cost money. As the addict chases after the same high even as he’s desensitized by his substance abuse, he will sooner or later burn through all his finances as he indulges in disease-induced hedonism. What’s worse is that he’ll then develop employment problems that include missed work, decreased productivity, and job loss. Addiction will force an addict into financial strain that will make him a burden to his family. He’ll have to rely on them for support if he’s not the parental figure of the family in question.

If the addict is the breadwinner of the family, he runs the risk of becoming homeless and unemployable. He can end up ultimately losing his family. The addict might even resort to committing crimes just to feed his habit. He might have difficulty providing the basic needs of his children, much less pay for their tuition or alimony. He might end up as a penniless bum who’s only concerned about his next hit or high. He’ll have to rely on financial support from family members until they too cut him off.

Effects of Drug Abuse on Parents

It’s hard enough for parents to deal with a drug-addicted child. However, what if it’s the child or children who have to deal with parental drug abuse or alcoholism instead? What then? Alcohol and drug abuse by a family member or members negatively impacts everyone in the family. However, more often than not, it’s adolescents and little children who are most affected by addiction in the family. Parents or guardians who are addicted are unable to fulfill their duty of taking care of them as they grow up.

Children might experience abuse and neglect from their addict parent or parents. This is a reality in America, where 40 to 80 percent of child abuse cases with families involve drug abuse and alcohol in some way. Furthermore, parents with issues pertaining to substance abuse usually prioritize their addiction due to the nature of the condition. This results to child neglect of varying severity and them leaving children to fend for themselves.

Other Effects of Drug Abuse on Parents

A woman looking at the pills in the bottle

Parents who are preoccupied with drugs also tend to be inconsistent with their parenting. After all, their priorities lie elsewhere. Even if the abuse and neglect aren’t severe, alcoholism and drug addiction can lead to inconsistent parents. They have illogical actions, random rules, and erratic decision-making. In such situations, children will have a tough time telling what’s right from what’s wrong because the parents have not set clear boundaries on what’s acceptable or not.

Misdirection of anger is also common. Because of the emotional volatility of the family environment due to the addict’s addiction, emotions will fly and it will become extremely difficult for members of the family to properly process their feelings of negativity. Lacking emotional tools can then make the parents or children funnel their anger and resentment towards inappropriate targets or channels such as themselves or each other as well as the addict, leading to further harmful behaviors and substance abuse.

Effects of Drug Abuse on Children

  • Behavioral Problems and Emotional Instability: A child growing up with addicted parents might not get the needed guidance. Lack of this can prevent him from becoming emotionally independent and responsible. Neglect, abuse, and/or being forced to take on more adult roles can lead the child to become emotionally unstable. He may feel insecurity, fear, confusion, guilt, and shame. His emotional development can become arrested due to the environment of instability and chaos that he’s going through.
  • Role Reversal of Parents and Children: Children of addicted parents are compelled to take on a grownup’s role. Usually, they’re the ones working in the streets, taking on odd jobs to supplement their parent’s income. Some even serve as the sole breadwinner of their family. They can also act as caretakers to their parents and even provide emotional support to them.
  • Children Forced into Adulting: Never mind adult Millennials attempting to become adults with the term adulting. When their addict parents end up neglecting them and any responsibilities related to parenthood, children face the need to act as grownups or, at least, older than their years. This is particularly notable among older children and teenagers on the cusp of adulthood themselves. They might take on responsibilities that are beyond what is normal for children their age, such as cleaning, cooking, and looking after their siblings.

When faced with this dire sort of circumstances, those affected should remember that addiction isn’t the totality of reality. Instead, it’s just one aspect of it. Therefore, you should overhaul all of your expectations and take things one step at a time.

Codependency and Addiction

Depending on each other might sound good. However, a codependent kind of relationship where both end up in a self-destructive spiral is toxic. Substance abuse affects relationships that are intimate or romantic in specific ways, often with a partner or both partners exhibiting codependency signs. Codependency was first observed among alcoholic partners who weren’t alcoholics as well. It refers to a relationship pattern wherein one person puts the needs of the other ahead of their own like some sort of martyr.

Once this pattern in the relationship has taken root, both the addict and non-addict will suffer and require treatment in order to get better. Or they might as well call the whole thing off and live separate lives in more nontoxic relationships. This codependency can stretch all the way towards ruining the family unit in case these two codependent lovers also have children involved in the mix.

Codependency and Its Symptoms

The non-addicted partner might end up becoming the addict’s caretaker, exhibiting unhealthy codependency symptoms or Florence Nightingale syndrome. This occurs when the partner shows his love by fulfilling the caretaker role. This enables the addict to stay addicted while the other partner powerlessly protests by not letting the addict feel the consequences of his own actions.

In this toxic relationship, the spouse will often try to be as perfect a martyr as possible. He tries to please his partner who prioritizes cravings instead of taking care of his family. This leads to feelings of inadequacy, guilt, and shame that then turn into low self-esteem for the non-addicted partner. He keeps doing this due to the false belief that their codependence will keep his partner from using alcohol or drugs.

Controlling behavior in all situations roots from codependents believing that others cannot take care of themselves. Furthermore, codependent partners might end up forfeiting their personal values altogether to avoid anger and rejection of the addicted partner. Their self-worth becomes dependent on the approval of the person they’re taking care of. This is an extreme form of people-pleasing, which makes the situation worse.

The enabling codependent partner might be more concerned about the reputation of their addicted loved one or their relationship as a whole. He might end up neglecting his own needs. He might even believe he’s being selfless and altruistic in his behavior to care for the needs of the addict. Keep in mind that being an enabler is even more detrimental to the addict than letting him face the consequences of his actions.

Transitioning from Rehab to a Normal Life

drunk man or alcoholic sleeping with bottle of whiskey on sofa at home

Rehabilitation from drugs or alcohol—particularly inpatient rehab—involves getting the addict within a supported living environment or inpatient facility. Being in this place keeps him away from his addiction triggers that lead to abuse and possible relapse after withdrawal. Rehab is supposed to be his home away from home. This keeps him away from his stressful family, work, enablers, dealers, or peers. In short, he is safeguarded from those who lead him to abuse drugs.

With that said, treatment should include family therapy in order to get to the root of his issues in the first place. Helping him deal with his broken familial relationships will also strengthen his resolve. It is crucial to stick with his substance abuse abstinence as he transitions from rehab to real life. He has a family to come back to who has resolved their problems with him (or have begun to do so and continues to do so) while in therapy, after all.

Are You Ready to Get Help?

Before you or your addicted loved one can transition from rehab to a normal life, you need to undergo rehab first. Thankfully, the Lanna Rehab Center in Chiang Mai, Thailand is here to help. It is one of Thailand’s fastest growing rehabilitation clinics for alcoholism and drug dependence treatment.

Found at the secluded city of Chiang Mai, this resort-like clinic is renowned as a world-class addiction treatment center. The program icludes detoxification, dual diagnosis, individualized therapy, group therapy, psychotherapy, CBT, DBT, aftercare, and so forth. Please contact them today for a FREE consultation and immediate booking.

Martin Peters

Martin Peters has a BA (Hons) Dip HE Dip RN CSAT III and is the Group Program Director Lanna Healthcare. He is a Registered Nurse and Certified Substance Abuse Therapist working in the mental health field since 1994; Martin has had a wide range of experience in management and supervisory roles within established healthcare systems, and has provided consultancy services to a number of private and public sector organizations in the UK and Asia in terms of management, policy writing, accreditation and recruitment. Martin’s addictions experience has been in developing inpatient services in Thailand since 2009, both clinical and operational. He has been instrumental in expanding and developing a non 12 step inpatient treatment centre and opening a further inpatient centre with a 12 step approach, implementing KIPU Electronic Records, strengthening hospital partnerships, introducing a Scholarship for students under the Masters in Addiction Studies Program at The ASEAN Institute for Health Development and working with an international accreditation body. Martin has also been a speaker at several international conferences on addiction, including ASEAN conferences and has also guest lectured at Mahidol University (Thailand), University of Sarghoda (Pakistan) Institute of Medical Sciences (Pakistan) and has been a representative on the CARF Standards Advisory Committee for 2016.In 2015. Martin became a Co-Founder of Lanna Healthcare, launching Lanna Rehab in March 2016 and opening Jintra in January 2018. In June of 2018, Martin was involved in the merger of Lanna and DARA, becoming Thailand's biggest private licensed operator. Martin is currently a Joint and Asia Health Co Ltd Owner Operator of Lanna Healthcare Co Ltd, which under its umbrella manages Lanna Rehab in Chiang Mai, Jintra Rehab in Chiang Mai and DARA Rehab in Koh Chang - all Thailand MoPH Licensed Addiction Facilities providing world-class treatment in Thailand.



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