Drug Addiction And Families: The Impact, Consequences, And How To Get Help

As we all know, drug addiction is destructive. It destroys lives and can even end them too. But drug addiction isn’t only damaging to the addict themselves. It’s something that impacts the entire family – and beyond. Loved ones, friends, colleagues, and even strangers can be affected by addition. But it’s quite often the case that drug addiction and families see an immediate impact.

Families can become consumed by one’s addiction. It can have ongoing repercussions emotionally, functionally, and financially too. Yes, unless you know how to handle addiction, it’s difficult to move past it. Feelings of worry set in – sometimes even anger. You may also experience guilt, depression, or helplessness, so it’s important to be able to take control of the situation once and for all.

Whether you’re an addict or the loved one of an addict, it can help to understand how the relationships of drug addiction and families can work.  How a vicious cycle can form. How codependency can set in. And, most importantly, how to get help.

To do that, it’s important to start by understanding the addiction. Doing so will help you as an addict or the family member of an addict. If you’re struggling to get help, to help a loved one, or to remove addiction from your life, it’s important to understand the relationship, what options you have, and how you can move forward. Let’s take a look.

What Is Addiction?

First of all, you need to understand how drug addiction happens. It’s easy to believe that it’s a choice– that addicts choose to take drugs and stay dependent on them. But that’s simply not true. It’s certainly not a “lack of willpower” that causes addiction or that keeps people who struggle to come off of drugs.

Instead, it’s a disorder of the mind. One that compels you to indulge in rewarding activities that stimulate pleasure in some way, regardless of any negative consequences. Drug addiction is a chronic version of that – where the user continues to use drugs, despite any of the adversity that comes their way.

effects of addiction

Despite the action of taking drugs seems like a choice to many, it’s not merely a choice to addicts. Classed as a brain disorder, drug addiction shows changes to the brain in relation to the feelings of stress, self-control, and reward. Yes, there may have been a choice to take the drug to begin with, but when addiction sets in, self-control is often lost and the pursuit of pleasure or reward that the drug gives is too powerful – despite any stress the disorder may cause to the addict or their loved ones.

How Can You Treat It?

Now, as much as the likelihood (and intensity) of the addiction can vary between user to user, if you are addicted to a certain drug or many drugs, or you’re a loved one of an addiction, you will need to find a treatment solution that suits you. This is often the sticking point with drug addiction and families really come to light.

Because the family only ever wants the addict to get better – yet knowing how to do it can be tough. At the same time, this can bring on the issues that are often seen with facilitation, enabling, and co-dependency. Before we delve into this further, and subsequently how the drug addiction and families relationship can actually enable treatment, here are the key treatment options:

  • Seeking medical help – an addict, or loved ones, may want to begin this journey with a visit to the doctor to discuss options.
  • Therapytalking therapies often allow addicts to uncover how thoughts and emotions impact on drug use.
  • Medicines – addiction to heroin or another form of opioid may mean that Suboxone can be offered as a medicinal treatment to prevent drug use.
  • Detox – to stop taking drugs completely, this method can aim to control the addiction suddenly and aid with any subsequent withdrawal symptoms.
  • Self-help – support groups are also another option to help addicts, and the families of addicts, move past addiction and cope while living with addiction in the future.

However, we now need to explore the relationship between drug addiction and families in more detail in order to better understand the addiction, and then move past it.

How Drug Addiction Impacts Families

It’s safe to say that the impact of drug addiction on families can be astronomical. It’s never going to be something that you can overlook or move past in a hurry. Drug addiction can destroy families, put a huge strain of the family dynamic, the health of relationships, the health of all involved, finances, emotions, and happiness both now and in the future. Yet, it doesn’t have to have such drastic consequences forever. It can be managed. To make that happen, let’s explore the key impact you’re likely to see or experience.

broken families from addiction

First of all, you have to realize that addiction impacts everybody close to the addict. Parents, children, partners – even siblings and extended family members in situations where loved ones are very close. Three of the main dynamics that can be impacted are:

Emotionally

To see a loved one suffering from addiction is an emotional strain. It can harm the emotional health of everybody involved. When you love someone and you see them going through a horrific illness, like addiction, it can cause significant amounts of emotional stress on an ongoing basis. Parents, children, partners – all three can be emotionally affected by the actions of the addict.

As a result, there can be ongoing conflicts within the family. Whether this is in a marriage, in a parent-child relationship, or with wider family members, relationships will often feel the pinch. Negativity and tension can be in the air. And when that happens, anger and resentment often arise too. Family members may lash out, be overly critical, and a constant cycle of unhappiness and depression can exist, too. Therefore, everybody in the situation can be left feeling sad, stressed, and sometimes hopeless.

Functionally

But it’s not just the emotional distress that drug addiction can cause. It can also impact on the function of the family. Many users may not be able to commit to what they say they will do. They may let loved ones down time and time again. And this can lead to high amounts of instability within the family. Consequently, family members are left to pick up the slack dropped by the user – causing further strain on the family unit.

At the same time, lying and stealing can occur on a regular basis. When the user lies to cover up the addiction or steals to facilitate the addiction, it makes it hard for loved ones to trust them – not just now, but over a longer period too. It can have a significant impact on the health of many relationships – in some cases, some relationships can go beyond repair. Because of this, codependency and dysfunction can run in the family until addiction is fully addressed or resolved.

Financially

And, of course, we must factor in overall drug use costs. Addiction can be incredibly expensive. This can have a serious impact on family finances. Not only that, but a drug user may struggle to focus at work, or their addiction may affect the ability to do their job well, or the quality of work produced. Poor performance or even missing work can then lead to the loss of work – meaning that the family finances will certainly struggle further. Having to support an addict can go on to cause increased strain in the family dynamic.

But that’s not all, because of the financial issues they have a snowball effect. It may start by taking money to spend on drug addiction or a loss of income that then makes drug use harder. Yet the addict may not be prioritized as they should be. Drug use and allocating money to drugs can come first. This means that housing can be lost, it may become harder to feed the family – and it’s often the spouse and children that suffer.

Shame & Regret

Alongside these three, many loved ones involved will feel ashamed and may even be in denial. Family members may try to hide the addiction or cover up things that are actually taking place. And this is why, unfortunately, many drug addiction and family issues can go deeper than that – often leading to other family members abusing substances as a result.

To better understand the dynamic, impact, and on-going effects, let’s consider how this impacts different types of relationships in particular.

The Impact Of An Addicted Parent On The Entire Family

We know that addiction is consuming – not just for the user, but for the entire family. It’s a family affair – not just the business of the addict. The main reason for this is because the entire family does get pulled into the addiction. While they may not be addicts themselves, the addiction will affect every area of the whole family’s lives.

Many experts like to describe this like bog marshlands, or like sinking sand. Despite having the best intentions and wanting to help the addict, other family members find themselves getting stuck and sinking down too. The more they pull, the more they’ll get dragged down. And so, it’s essential that loved ones look to keep themselves together first, in order to then support their using family members.

The Impact Of An Addicted Partner On Their Spouse

The effects within a marriage or partnership will very much include many of the emotions, thoughts, and actions that we’ve already mentioned. But because we’re looking at an intimate relationship where trust is critical, and responsibility needs to be had, it can have such a sensitive impact.

For the spouse, it’s difficult to live with an addict. Conflict, shame, anger, and resentment are all emotions that can run high on a constant basis. While the addicted partner is constantly torn between their addiction and showing up in their relationship, the addiction often wins. And the effects can spiral outwards, pushing farther than the spouse.

addiction effects on spouse

The spouse may doubt themselves. Deep feelings of blame and worry can occur. Spouses will blame themselves and wonder if it was something they said or did that caused their partner to become an addict. They’ll question their abilities as a partner. They’ll worry about and constantly stress over stopping the addiction. When children are present, the constant need to protect them is present. And then, the worries of hiding the addiction from other family members or society, in general, is often a constant worry.

All the while, the addicted partner feels shame – perhaps even like a failure. This can often lead to guilt, and subsequently anger and aggression – despite them not wanting this to take place. They may even go to extreme lengths to hide the addiction, cover things up, or make amends.

The Impact Of An Addicted Parent On The Child

One of the most heart-wrenching of all issues with drug addiction and families is when children are present. Because that can be severe and on-going consequences on the children – health wise and mentally. Yes, you will find that children can be neglected, and parental responsibility can pretty much diminish. But that’s not all. As a result of the drug addicted parent, children can take on one of many roles. These roles are:

  • The Hero – This role is often assumed by the eldest or one of the elder children in the family. They aim to take on the bulk of the responsibility – especially if the parent is unable to provide basic care, the hero will attempt to do it. They are responsible and oftentimes, a perfectionist. They’ll start to take on roles well beyond their age, in an attempt to keep the family unit going. This can cause strain, resentment, and confusion.
  • The ‘Scapegoat’ – This role is assumed by the child that is easy to blame. Maybe they’re rebellious or a troublemaker. Unfortunately, they can take the brunt of the blame when it comes to issues in the family or around the home, in an attempt to disguise what’s really going on with the addiction. This child can frequently be in trouble at home or in school, go on to break the law and experience issues in adulthood too – even addiction themselves.
  • The Mascot – This role is adopted by the child wishing to cause a distraction. They’re the comedian – the clown. They turn to comedy as a source of comfort – a way to make the family feel better and glaze over the addiction. This is their attempt to solve the problems and bring comfort into the home again. However, deep down, they can be lost, scared, and hurt.
  • The Lost Child – This role caused the child to withdraw. They may have trouble developing any kind of relationship with the family. Or they may struggle in social situations, to communicate or interact in society. This child may appear to be a dreamer. However, they are masking feelings of loneliness, abandonment, and inadequacy.

addiction effects on child

These are four common examples, but there are countless habits and damaging mindsets children can grow into and carry throughout adulthood. As you can see, the long-term psychological effects of drug addiction on children can be catastrophic. Children will establish roles that perhaps they would never have been adopted if addiction had not been an issue in the family. This can then go on to shape the course of their lives and subsequent relationships.

The Impact Of An Addicted Child On The Entire Family

On the flipside of that, there are also the effects you can experience when the addicted family member is a child – i.e. the effects that the addiction has on any parent, no matter how old that ‘child’ may be. However, this can be particularly detrimental when the addict is a minor, as the impact on the family unit is consequential.

Parents can argue and be in constant conflict with each other. They can blame each other. The tension can then be sensed by older children in the family and affect them too. Parents never know how to handle the situation, or can find themselves arguing about the situation and how to fix it as opinions and differ. Siblings can be blamed or their bad behavior can be pinpointed as the source of the addicted child’s disorder. More often than not, the using child receives the bulk of attention from the parents – leaving their siblings neglected and resentful as a result. Constant arguments can make the home feel toxic and children desperate for love and harmony.

As you can see, the relationship between drug addiction and families is never straight forward. It’s challenging and emotionally draining. The presence of blame will occur in any and every situation. And this needs to be tackled.

Is It My Fault?

In short, no. But the loved ones of drug users may constantly ask themselves this question. Because blame is inevitable. Sometimes, it’s easiest to work out why this happened or to blame yourself, than to try and solve the actual problem. But pointing fingers never fixes anything, it only ever makes the situation, and everyone in it feels worse.

Codependency is often a huge part of the addiction disease. This is when one prioritizes the needs of another over their own. You may find that the entire family gets very used to the addiction – and become dependent on attempting to fix things. This is because it’s easy to become a carer and rely upon being as such.

how to help families through addiction

As this happens, enabling can take place. Even though loved ones may not want to facilitate the user’s addiction, it can happen indirectly (and directly, too). Feelings of guilt, low self-esteem, controlling behavior, seeking the approval of others, and neglecting one’s own needs are all key signs of codependency. It’s essential for families to identify and accept this pattern, to be able to move past it.

Despite it being easy to blame yourself, it’s important to understand the impact of the drug addiction and families cycle to identify the best ways to get help.

How You Can Help

Now, the next step for those affected by drug addiction and families is to work out the best possible solution for getting help. And most importantly of all, it’s essential that the entire family is involved in this. Because it is a family issue – and the entire family will often need to treat their own symptoms, such as codependency, as well as the user’s addiction. In terms of treatment options, families may want to consider:

  • Speaking to your doctor – Here, not only can you get the first steps for treating the addiction medically, but families can get support too. There are often support groups for families of drug addicts in your local area, but there are also support phone lines and internet groups that may be a huge help to loved ones.
  • Take care of yourself – As we’ve discussed, family members will not be in the best possible position to help their addicted loved ones unless they are in a good place themselves. This is why it’s important to try and take good care of yourself. Here, eating (and eating well), exercising, still partaking in passions or pastimes, finding joy in activities you love, and establishing a good sleep pattern can help you to stay in a good position mentally and physically, too them aid your loved one through their addiction.
  • Family therapy – This is a strong way for the entire family, including the user, to move forward and away from addiction. In sessions, families can expect to receive further information and education on addiction, as well as coping and recovery mechanisms.

In conclusion, drug addiction and families dynamic is a tricky one. Drug addiction is not just something that affects a user. It goes on to have a significant impact on their loved ones. The extent of the consequences can vary based on the relationship the user has with each family member. And, in some cases, the family members can facilitate or enable addiction. Thus, it’s important for entire families, and not just the user themselves, to seek support for drug addiction.

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