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Article Summary

Effects Of Addiction On The Family

While looking at the harm that substance abuse causes, it is also important to try and uncover the effects of addiction on the family unit. According to the NSDUH for 2014 (National Survey on Drug Use and Health) run by SAMHSA (or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration), more than 21.5 million Americans above the age of 12 years had an ongoing substance use disorder - covering both alcohol and drug addictions.

As such, it is clear that substance use and addiction continue exerting negative impacts on the families of countless Americans. In particular, these families tend to suffer from the adverse consequences of drug use among their members.

Unfortunately, few people in need of addiction treatment and rehabilitation do not get it. Instead, they continue suffering in silence, and their families often take the full brunt of the drug scourge that has been plaguing the country.

Substance Abuse And Family Life

Drug addiction and alcoholism have obvious effects on the lives of those who are affected either directly or indirectly. In particular, those who abuse drugs and alcohol in the long term will suffer negative impacts on their physical health. Their ongoing substance abuse also impairs their psychological health and mental functioning while damaging their spirit.

However, few people take the time to try and understand the adverse effects of drug and alcohol abuse on the family unit. This is why it is important to try and find out what might happen to your family if you continue abusing these intoxicating and mind-altering substances.

To be more specific, substance abuse has variously been described as a family disease. This is because it affects every person in the addict's immediate family - as well as some members of their extended family - in one way or the other. In particular, addiction can impact the psychological well-being, physical health, and finances of your family.

In the past few years, American society has been moving further aware from traditional nuclear families. As a direct result, there are more blended families, single-parent homes, and families headed by senior citizens - including grandparents, uncles and aunts, and other elderly members of an extended family.

Each of these new family structures tends to affect the impact that addiction has on the family unit. For instance, if there are young children in such a family, it is important to consider their ages while trying to uncover the effects of ongoing substance abuse.

This is also true for elderly adults with adult children who are addicted. Additionally, the severity of drug addiction, as well as the type of drug dependence, should also factor in the impact that addiction has on the family.

Last but not least, every substance abuser's situation is different. This means that the situation that they put their families into will also be unique. As a direct result, it might be difficult to assign an appropriate universal causal relationship between the functioning of a family and ongoing drug and alcohol abuse.

Still, it is important to note that the effects of addiction on the family - for most people - tend to be overwhelmingly negative. Even so, there might be a couple of exceptions to this generalized rule.

Family Roles And Addiction

For every family, members tend to play a role - or several roles - to ensure that the family functions better. This role-playing is also important in the maintenance of homeostasis, balance, and stability within the unit.

To this end, when you add substance abuse to this dynamic, the roles of the individual family members will start shifting naturally to adjust to and accommodate the new and strange behaviors associated with alcohol and drug use. These adjustments are necessary so that the members of the family can continue maintaining balance and order within the unit.

Include the substance use, 6 roles have been developed to try and understand how families function when someone starts using drugs and alcohol. These roles include the addict, the lost child, the scapegoat, the hero, the mascot, and the enabler.

a) The Addict

Many people who abuse intoxicating and mind-altering substances chronically and repeatedly tend to feel great remorse, guilt, and shame about the distress and pain that they cause to their families.

However, many addicts might not be ready to stop abusing their preferred drugs and alcohol. As a direct result, they continue causing great resentment, anger, and feelings of worthlessness to the other members of their family.

b) The Enabler

In many cases, enablers include older children in single-parent households as well as non-addicted spouses. In particular, enablers tend to take care of the damage that the addict causes.

For instance, they may ensure that the children in the family continue attending school and leading productive and meaningful lives. They might also start taking of the family finances.

Adversely and negatively, however, they could also make justifications to try and protect the addict in the family - particularly in business and social situations. In many cases, enablers are usually in denial about the problems that the addict is going through. As a direct result, they are usually more than willing to continue making excuses for them.

c) The Hero

The hero role is often assumed by older children in a family with an addict. They may start overachieving and appearing more serious and confident than they otherwise would have been.

Additionally, heroes tend to take up responsibilities at home - including but not limited to those that may exceed their stage of development. In particular, they are highly likely to assume parental roles because one or both of their parents are addicts.

Heroes end up being obsessive in nature - especially with regards to perfection. As a direct result, they may have a difficult time maintaining their hero role especially as the addiction starts progressing and their responsibilities continue mounting.

d) The Lost Child

People in this role often isolate themselves from the other members of the family. To this end, they may end up experiencing problems developing relationships with other people - both at the time of the addiction and later on in their lives.

Lost children also have difficulty in most social situations. Additionally, they may have a tendency to engage in fantasy and role playing - which they use as a coping mechanism to distract themselves physically, psychologically, and emotionally from the negative environment back at home.

e) The Mascot

Addiction and ongoing substance abuse often tend to turn the home environment highly uncomfortable for everyone involved. As a direct result, some members of the family might assume the role of a mascot. This means that they will be more likely to start using humor as their primary coping mechanism.

Most mascots are aware that their comedy and funny antics are useful in bringing a sense of relief - albeit momentarily - to the entire family. Due to this fact, they may continue maintaining the mascot role to achieve an improved level of comfort and balance within the home.

f) The Scapegoat

Scapegoats in families with addict/s often tend to misbehave habitually. They may also be defiant - particularly when they are faced with authority and rules. As a direct result, scapegoats often end up getting into trouble both at home at in school.

As scapegoats progress towards adulthood, they may even get into problems with law enforcement officials because of the habits they learned while trying to cope with addiction in their home environment. All these behaviors are often a reflection of the chaotic and poisonous atmosphere that they grew up with.

As you can see, addition can cause more harm to the members of your family that you might think. In particular, if your family continues establishing these roles during their childhood, they may turn into behavioral patterns that will continue playing out and evolving throughout their adulthood.

Additionally, if substance and abuse and addiction develop late - especially where there are adult children - it may create additional issues and problems with the family unit. This is because family roles would already have been set firmly by this stage.

To this end, the blurring lines between parent/friend and parent/child relationships at this stage may also make this situation even more difficult to deal with and remedy once and for all.

Effects Of Addiction On Individual Family Members

Apart from the above negative consequences of addiction and alcoholism on the roles played by members of a family, ongoing drug and alcohol abuse can also affect different people in different ways within the family unit. Consider the following:

1. The Children

Of all the people who are negatively affected by addiction in the family unit, perhaps none suffers as much as the children do. In particular, the effects of living with addicted parents and older siblings may continue being felt long after these children have passed the childhood and teenage stage and continue well into their adulthood.

In particular, parental drug addiction and alcoholism can create the following effects in children:

  • Anxiety
  • Chronic depression
  • Fear of abandonment
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Guilt
  • Loneliness
  • Poor self-image

On the other hand, if the mother abuses drugs and alcohol during their pregnancy, they may also affect their children in a variety of ways. In particular, their children are highly likely to suffer a host of developmental and behavioral disorders.

Research studies now show that 1 in 5 adults in the United States lived with alcoholic relatives at one point or the other during their childhood. In many cases, these people carry a high risk of developing emotional and behavioral problems in comparison to the children of people who did not abuse alcohol.

To be more specific, the children of alcoholics have four times as much risk of developing the same drinking problems that plagued their parents - in comparison to those who did not grow up in a home with alcohol parents. Additionally, they also have a higher likelihood of experiencing difficulties in dealing with depression, stress, and other psychological disorder. They may also be more likely than most to marry abusive spouses and alcoholics later on in their lives.

Addiction also causes financial damage to the family unit. As a direct result, children who grow up with addicted parents may end up being malnourished, undereducated, and without the ease of economic access that other people may have.

The children of substance abusers and alcoholics may also be more likely to grow up in highly unstable home environments. The children who are in such a situation may also have difficulty determining the parent that they are going to get (intoxicated or sober) from one moment to the other. As a direct result, they have a high likelihood of starting to fend for themselves even in situations where they would ordinarily require adult supervision.

In terms of the financial effects of addiction on the family, children in such families might also end up being malnourished and undereducated - as we saw earlier. This is because addicts do not consider it important for their families to have three solid meals every day or even to go to school.

To this end, those who grow up in homes with addicts might be robbed of some of the important aspects of their childhood. Once illicit substances get into the equation, these children will also be exposed to illicit activities. In some cases, they might even be asked by the addict to aid and abet in these activities - such as by lying about what the addict is doing.

Last but not least, parents who abuse drugs and alcohol have a higher likelihood of being involved with legal problems, unemployment, mental illness, and divorce. All of these factors will severely compromise their natural abilities to act as parents.

2. Spouses

Committed relationships and substance abuse do not create a cohesive mix. Particularly in those relationships where only one of the partners has a drug or alcohol problem, it is highly likely that the long-term relationship or marriage might end up being ruined.

Alcoholism, in particular, has variously been linked to higher rates of divorce. Additionally, addiction in one partner might lead the other partner to have to shoulder the greater share of the responsibilities in the relationship and in the household.

On the other hand, if both spouses are addicted to alcohol and drugs, then it is not likely that they will divorce or separate. However, the atmosphere in such a household will increasingly become more toxic as a direct result.

If one partner is sober, they may at least try and keep the household in order while continuing to encourage the addict to seek the help they need. They may even host an intervention that forces them to check into an addiction treatment and rehabilitation facility.

However, if there are two addicts in a relationship, both of them will enable and feed off each other. This may cause the relationship to start deteriorating albeit slowly because both addicts may be too focused on continuing to abuse drugs and alcohol that they have no time to cultivate the relationship and handle responsibilities in the household.

The spouses of drug and alcohol abusers often experience codependency. This concept became increasingly popular during the 80s as the problem of drug addiction started becoming common in American households.

In particular, codependency refers to individuals who are overly involved with other people to such an extent that the relationship can be considered to be dysfunctional. With respect to addiction, codependency refers to people who increasingly start putting the needs of an addict over and above their own - even in situations when such prioritization is detrimental to their emotional, physical, and psychological well-being.

As a direct result, codependent spouses in a relationship with an addict will often make excuses and defend the addict. They may also do just about anything to ensure that they remain in the addict's good graces - primarily because they do not want to cause any trouble.

When the term was first coined, it was used to refer to the wives of drug addicts and alcoholics who were financially reliant and dependent on their husbands. Today, even though most of the people who suffer codependency are married to an addict, just about who has established a relationship with a substance user may find that they have become codependent.

3. Parents

Irrespective of how old your children are, discovering that they abuse drugs and alcohol and that they are addicts can come as a rude and unpleasant shock. It may also start questioning your abilities as well as the decisions you made while bringing them up.

In much the same way that the children of addicts suffer, even the parents of substance abuser may start blaming themselves for the fact that the substance use disorder has been allowed to develop.

For teens struggling with substance abuse and addiction, the parents may perceive the problem to be potentially more dangerous. This is because these children are still not yet fully matured and they have so much of their life ahead of them. Adolescence is also a critical time during which you need to stop the child from using drugs and alcohol before the grip of addiction becomes too strong for you to do anything about it.

Consider the following statistics relating to teen substance abuse in the United States:

  • 10% of all young people between the ages of 12 and 17 currently use illicit drugs
  • 46% of all students in high school are still using addictive substances; 33% of these students met the basic criteria for addiction
  • 75% of all students in high school have abused intoxicating and mind-altering substances; among these students, 1 in every 5 meet the basic criteria for substance addiction and dependence
  • 9 out of 10 people who met the basic criteria for substance addiction started using drugs, smoking, and drinking before they were 18
  • It is estimated that 6% of all 16- and 17-year olds, as well as 17% of people between the ages of 18 and 20 years old, reported that they drove while intoxicated on alcohol

The good thing about having a teen who abuses drugs is that you can still do something to correct the situation before it is too late. At this age, for instance, you might still be able to control the household and the finances available to your children.

You can wield this power to get your children to accept rehabilitation and addiction treatment and to force them to stop abusing intoxicating and mind-altering substances.

However, if your adult child is an addict, you might have less ability to impose severe consequences for their substance abuse - unless you control their finances and lives in one way or the other. However, your ability to punish them if they are unwilling to seek rehabilitative care and treatment will be diminished greatly. This is particularly true for parents who no longer live with their children.

4. Grandparents

If you abuse drugs and become an addict when you have young children, the other members of your extended family, as well as their grandparents, will often be forced to pick up the bulk of the responsibility of taking care of these children.

This problem is increasingly becoming endemic. For instance, the US Census shows that the total number of children who are being raised by grandparents has been skyrocketing. In particular, this number shot up to 4.9 million (2012) from a paltry 2.4 million (2000). The main reasons behind this rising number are mental disorder and addiction.

Additional Effects Of Addiction On The Family

But what are the other effects of addiction on the family unit? Although there are no two families that are similar in the United States, it is clear that addiction affects all families in much the same way. From multigenerational families, foster families, stepfamilies, and single-parent families, the dynamics of every family with addicted individuals will vary greatly. As a result, addiction may affect the family in different ways.

Consider the following:

a) Abuse

Research studies have discovered a tragic and unfortunate cycle that links domestic, child, and sexual abuse, rape, and substance abuse. These studies have discovered that many cases of domestic and child abuse often involve the use of alcohol and drugs.

Additional studies found that individuals affected by these forms of abuse also have a higher likelihood of using drugs and alcohol later on in their lives. As a direct result, people who grow up in families with addicts may experience some form of sexual or domestic abuse - which could lead to trauma and later increase their likelihood of abusing intoxicating and mind-altering substances themselves. In case they end up having children, this cycle may also continue.

b) Isolation

Among the side effects of enabling is that one member of the family may become increasingly isolated from the other members and from their friends. To protect your friend, child, parent, or spouse, you may start withdrawing from the family and from your social circle. This will enable you to create a protective barrier between these people and the loved one struggling with addiction.

However, this form of isolation will cause you to lose contact with all the people that you have sidelined as a result of a member of your family abusing drugs and alcohol. In the long run, this will effectively render what might otherwise have turned out into a beneficial and positive support system fairly ineffective and void.

c) Childhood Exposure

Addiction will cause you to expose your children to negative influences, most of which are negative and unhealthy for them. Most children learn through observation and by example. In their formative years, therefore, they may be shaped by the environment that you expose them to.

Additionally, these children might have a genetic risk for abusing drugs due to their biological connection with you. As a direct result, they may have a higher likelihood of starting to experiment with alcohol and drugs at some point in their lives. This could be because you allowed them to witness these behaviors on a consistent basis.

Children in families with an addict may also be highly inclined to accept drug and alcohol abuse. They might not even realize that you are an addict - meaning that they will think that the substance using behavior is more of a norm than an exception.

Research has also shown that most children who start using drugs and alcohol get these substances from their parents - either directly when they are allowed to try them or indirectly when they steal these substances.

d) Generational Disintegration

According to an article published by SAMHSA titled Substance Abuse Treatment and Family Therapy, the negative consequences of substance abuse and addiction in families tend to linger for many years and over several generations.

In particular, the intergenerational effect of drug abuse might negatively impact role modeling, normative behavioral concepts, and trust within a family unit. All these negative impacts will damage the relationship of members of the family in between the generations.

For example, children who were raised by addicted parents might end up becoming overbearing parents themselves. They may also not allow their children freedom of expression and independence. As a direct result, these children may start using drugs and alcohol themselves - further perpetuating the problem within the family lineage.

e) Divorce

Substance abuse and addiction tend to cause excessive tension and stress in a family. Unfortunately, this toll may turn out to be so intense that the relationship cannot survive in the toxic environment. As a direct result, the couple might decide to separate, or divorce - or one partner may leave for one reason or the other.

Although abusing drugs does not necessarily mean that you will get divorced, recent statistics show that there is a higher likelihood of this happening both for couples who are addicted and for relationships where only one partner uses intoxicating and mind-altering substances.

The National Library of Medicine also published a research study that examined the correlation between divorce and addition. In its findings, the NLM showed that consuming more than 1 liter of alcohol (per capita) can increase the risk of divorce by as much as 20%.

f) Financial Instability

When someone starts abusing drugs and alcohol and develop an addiction, they may be more likely to steal valuables and money to fund their substance abuse problem. This could cause other members of the family to always be on the lookout to ensure that the addict does not steal from them.

Addiction may also reduce your ability to fulfil your responsibilities at work as a result of the intoxicating effects of substance abuse. As a result, you may get to a point where you lose your job.

Should this happen, your family may start suffering because you will no longer be able to afford to provide them with shelter, clothing, electricity, food, heat, and even schooling.

In particular, ongoing substance abuse often requires massive amounts of money. As your use of these intoxicating substances becomes increasingly compulsive and more frequent, you will start running out of money with which to fund your drug habit.

When this happens, you may find that you have to use money that you had planned for necessities that your family requires to buy drugs. You may also start stealing money and other valuables to fund your addiction.

At some point, you may find that you are no longer able to contribute to the financial safety and wellbeing of your family or even to provide them with basic necessities. This will place undue stress on your children and on your partner.

If you resort to stealing, it will mostly be from the members of your family - which will increasingly make it more difficult for them to continue paying for basic necessities and to cater to the bills that the family has accrued. This will also propagate negative emotions.

Help For Addiction

As you can see, the effects of addiction on the family are mostly negative. To ensure that you do not continue making your family suffer, the best decision you can make is to check into an addiction treatment and rehabilitation center. This way, you will receive the help you need to overcome your substance use disorder and get back to a life of normalcy. In the long run, you may even be able to recover your lost relationships with your family and repair the damage that your addiction caused to the family unit.

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