4 Things You Didn’t Know About How Addiction Affects Families


Think addiction only hurts the person using drugs? Think again. There’s a reason why there’s a saying that addiction is a family disease. Even if there’s one person in the family who’s using drugs, they are rarely the only person in a family unit who is suffering because of it. Here’s the ugly truth about how addiction affects families and their loved ones. 

How does addiction affect family and friends?

Say there’s a father who lost his job due to addiction. The loss of income could put a family in jeopardy of losing their home. Parents of an addicted child might find themselves arguing frequently as each claims the other is an enabler, eventually leading to divorce. Addiction is devastating to family dynamics. The consequences of the drug user’s actions will cause irreversible harm no matter their standing or whether they’re a child or adult. 

1. Financial strain

Addiction is expensive for multiple reasons. First, there’s the cost of the drugs themselves. Depending on the frequency of drug use, this could be significant. Then there’s the cost of addiction treatment, which can be quite expensive, costing upwards of tens of thousands of dollars for a treatment program (it’s one of the primary reasons why some people put off getting treated).

However, there are also indirect costs to be considered, such as an increased risk of getting into accidents or having run-ins with the law, or like in the example above, the potential loss of income. There are more than double the number of drug users who are unemployed than those that have a full-time job. Addiction jeopardizes the family’s finances and puts the family at risk.

2. Increased risk of abuse

Research has found an unsettling correlation between drug addiction and domestic abuse. One alcohol abuse study found that the risk of intimate partner violence increases significantly if one or both partners have a drinking problem

A paper from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that 25% of men who committed acts of domestic violence also had substance abuse problems. Similarly, women who abused drugs also faced an increased likelihood of being victims of domestic abuse. 

This risk of abuse can also affect children as well, though usually not as physical violence. Instead, it is usually child abuse in the form of maltreatment or neglect.

3. Increased stress

It goes without saying that dealing with a family member who’s addicted to drugs is a stressful situation. Even if things haven’t escalated to any of the above situations (money problems or abuse) there are still many other ways that a drug user can cause stress within their family. It could be because one person is aware that a loved one has a problem but isn’t sure whether they should be the person to out their family member, or perhaps multiple family members are struggling with how to confront a loved one whose drug use has gotten so severe they need to have an intervention. 

Aside from stress being a major health hazard, it also can lead to family members being constantly on edge. Shorter fuses mean a greater likelihood of spats and misunderstandings which can further alienate the family from each other.

4. Creates a cycle of drug use

People who grow up with family members who have a substance use disorder face a significantly higher risk of developing one themselves. It’s a dangerous cycle that countless studies have found difficult to break. In addition to setting a bad behavioral example for children, addiction can change your genes, causing minor mutations that can be passed on to future offspring, putting them at increased risk. 

However, children aren’t the only ones who can be negatively affected by drug abuse. It can also significantly increase the odds of relapse in other family members who are in addiction recovery.

Help for Families Affected by Addiction

Substance abuse disorder is defined as when a person’s drug use renders them unable to fulfill familial, personal, or professional responsibilities. When a person gets to such a stage, the financial, legal, and medical troubles that drug use can cause can quickly manifest themselves in ways that directly affect a family’s dynamic and instill an overwhelming sense of instability as well as emotional distress.

Resolving these issues will require a lot more than simply having the drug user go to rehab. This stressful time likely eroded trust and family dynamics, and will need to be repaired. Many addiction treatment programs involve a family component that gets family members involved with their loved one’s treatment. Not sure if rehab is the right route for your family member with drug addiction? Find Al-anon meetings near you. They are like AA but for the family members and can provide valuable insight from others who’ve been in your exact situation. 

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