Addiction is often viewed as an individual experience, but the devastating effects reach far beyond the person using drugs or alcohol. Often, friends and family are directly impacted by a loved one’s addiction. Those closest to a person with addiction often witness their struggles with addiction financially, legally, medically, and in other ways. The physical and emotional toll of substance abuse can create tension and stress in the home that is difficult to overcome. As a result, families may begin to experience frequent miscommunication, loss of trust, and increased anxiety. The unpredictable behavior of a loved one using drugs or alcohol can make every day a unique and difficult experience.
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for addiction to negatively impact the foundation of a family. Over time, addiction often requires family members to step up and take on additional responsibilities that they may not have had to do otherwise. This leads to further anger, resentment, blame, and other negative emotions that drive families apart. Ultimately, family members may begin to drift away while others may attempt to explain or deny behaviors that cause rifts. Regardless of a person’s response to this situation, it can create dramatic changes in family dynamics that may be incredibly difficult to recover from.
Damaging the Family Structure
Regardless of the family structure, addiction can cause dramatic changes in dynamics. Households may have single parents, step parents, foster families, or multiple generations living together, but they are not immune to the damage addiction can leave in its path. Some of the most impactful ways addiction changes family structure include:
- Financial instability: Addiction can drive a person to steal from their loved ones or pawn off valuables in order to support their habit. Substance abuse is prioritized over all other responsibilities, which may mean bills are not being paid or food is not being purchased. Many who struggle with addiction eventually lose their jobs because they are unable to fulfill their obligations. All of these factors can lead family members to be more protective of their money and valuables, and can create feelings of resentment or anxiety about the future.
- Isolation: Addiction changes the way family members interact with each other. Substance abuse can affect the way a person behaves and may make it hard for family members to not begin distancing themselves. Whether it’s because the behaviors cause embarrassment or because they are prone to getting into conflicts with the addicted person, addiction can begin to drive a wedge in once close relationships.
- Enabling: Family members, whether they realize it or not, are often the biggest enablers for addiction. They may work to protect their loved one from the consequences of their actions, but this only allows them to continue engaging in dangerous behaviors. Family members may feel as though they are doing the right thing, but protecting a person from the consequences of their actions gives them no incentive to change and allows them to continue using with no remorse.
- Codependency: Codependency and enabling often go hand-in-hand. Family members often carry emotional burdens and a sense of obligation regarding the addicted person’s well-being. They inherit their responsibilities and enable them to continue engaging in behaviors that worsen their overall condition. Because of this, they become unable to care for themselves effectively and need others to help them manage their lives.
The Parent-Child Dynamic and Addiction
Children with parents who struggle with addiction are greatly impacted by it. A parent with an addiction may prioritize that over their child’s needs which can lead to neglect and the development of problems. A parent’s absence may mean that a child goes without properly prepared meals, proper hygiene, or transportation to school. This often puts the child in a position where they have to “grow up” quickly and begin taking responsibility for themselves. This may mean that the child does not act in age-appropriate ways because they are compensating for what they lack at home.
Safety is often a major concern for children in these situations. Substance abuse may take place in front of the child, dangerous situations may develop, or there may be people brought into their lives who bring great harm with them. Children in these situations are at the risk of losing their parents, being forced to take part in criminal activities, or put in dangerous situations that may jeopardize their lives. It can create a great deal of instability in a child’s life that may affect them into adulthood. With all these factors together, a child who grows up in this environment may struggle with developing meaningful relationships with others and may be at an increased risk of developing an addiction themselves.
Treating the Family
The devastating effects of addiction impact everyone. Over time, it can cause family members to become so drained and discouraged that they do not ask for help. Even if the person who struggles with addiction is in denial, it does not mean that the family cannot get help for themselves.
There are a variety of treatment options available for families affected by addiction. From individual and group counseling to support groups, family members can begin developing the tools they need to protect their mental and emotional health. Although getting the person who is struggling into an addiction treatment program is incredibly important you may not be able to force your loved one to accept help for their addiction. It is important that you learn ways to support a loved one in addiction recovery without compromising your own health or happiness. There are tolls and therapy options available to help the family begin rebuilding.
If your loved one is willing to engage in therapy, it can be beneficial to complete counseling with family members as well to ensure they understand the impact addiction has had on their lives as well. This will allow them to begin rebuilding trust and establish healthy boundaries in relationships moving forward.
If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, we are here to help. Give us a call at 888.855.6877 or send us a message below and one of our admissions counselors will do their best to get you the help you need.