Addiction is a disease that affects the entire family. When we think about drug addiction or alcoholism we think about treating the individual and we don’t even realize all of the ways addiction can affect the people closest to them. When you are a part of a family, every decision you make influences everyone in your family directly or indirectly.
Substance abuse issues with any person will affect their entire family in many ways. Tensions build as the person falls further and further into addiction. Arguments happen regularly and trust starts to erode. Mood swings and other physical changes often occur in the addict or alcoholic and boundaries are overstepped. All of this creates intense emotions and makes it almost impossible for any family to function properly.
If the person struggling with addiction is a parent, the effects can be pretty drastic for their children. According to data from the combined 2009 – 2014 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health, about 1 in 8 children aged 17 or younger lived in households with at least one parent who had a past year substance use disorder (SUD). Children who grow up with addicts or alcoholics in the home are more likely to develop an anxiety or depression disorder, which often becomes a lifelong struggle. These children are also more likely to become an addict or alcoholic themselves. The effects this can have on a developing mind are endless and it is vital that these children get the counseling they need to deal with the trauma they have been through.
Addiction also strains the primary relationship (or marriage) in many of the same ways. Finances become a major issue, physical and verbal altercations are normalized, trust decomposes and often leaves the couples considering divorce.
When the person struggling with addiction is a teenager the discord in the family is just as apparent. Other siblings may be neglected, and tension between the parents can threaten the marriage. This dysfunctional family dynamic will inevitably lead to lifelong resentments if not addressed and can consume every person in the family. It’s true every child deserves love and attention from their parents and it isn’t fair that the siblings of addicts are neglected. Family counseling can be very helpful when putting the pieces back together. Al-Anon is also a great resource for family members of alcoholics. These meetings provide support for the family, coping skills and a safe place to speak with others going through similar struggles.
When someone seeks treatment for alcoholism or addiction it is important all affected family members begin on their own paths to peace and healing. The good news is that all of this is possible and families CAN rebuild! You are not alone.