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Addiction’s Impact on the Family

Disrupting the Family Unit

Is someone in your family suffering from the disease of addiction? When a family member suffers from substance abuse, the family suffers too. 

How and why addiction is harmful to the family unit will depend on your family’s dynamics and how the disease manifests itself in the addicted individual’s life. Experts have, however, observed traits common to many families affected by addiction, some of which are explained below.

Parent-Child Relationships

Without intending to, parents suffering from addiction may engage in neglectful parenting. Parents living with addiction are often distracted by their disease and may, for example, inconsistently set and enforce boundaries and rules. This often leaves children confused. Children may act out and push boundaries to capture a neglectful parent’s attention, leading to behavioral problems at home and in school.

According to a recent study, children of addicted parents may be more likely to also suffer from addiction, whether in adolescence or later on in life. Growing up in such an environment may expose children to controlled substances at an early age and risks normalizing “self-medicating” behaviors, teaching children that drugs and alcohol are appropriate solutions to life’s challenges.

Spousal/Partner Relationships

It may be difficult to live as the spouse or partner of a person experiencing addiction. The addicted person often lives in conflict between the compulsion to drink or use drugs and not wanting to live with the negative consequences that follow. This conflict can manifest itself as anger and violence, and substance abuse is often a factor leading toward instances of domestic or intimate partner violence.

Sustaining emotional intimacy may be difficult for partners when one or both are suffering from addiction. The addicted partner may isolate, minimize and otherwise hide his or her self-destructive behaviors. In turn, a non-addicted person may find they are establishing patterns that compensate for and enable their addicted partner’s behavior. Normalized codependency is a common trait of relationships wherein one or both partners suffer from alcohol or drug addiction.

What Can I Do?

While addiction’s impact on an affected family can be tragic, placing blame on the addicted person is rarely productive or fair. Whether you are suffering from addiction or the relative of someone engaged in substance abuse, no one person is entirely at fault for the strain on your family. 

Addiction is often misunderstood as a lack of willpower or an inability to recognize the negative consequences of one’s behavior on the family. The reality is, however, that addiction is a complicated disease, and addicted persons often recognize harms to their families but are still unable to change their behaviors without outside interventions.

This is why enrolling in a program of treatment or encouraging your relative suffering from addiction to explore treatment options is an important and often necessary first step toward recovery.