The family unit is, in many cases, a very close group that depends on each other and has complex relationships made up of love, frustration, support, discipline and care. When substance abuse affects one family member, knock-on effects will be felt by others in the family.

Impact of substance abuse on families

Financial difficulties

One prevailing aspect of drug addiction is that it is not cheap. It is a constant drain on resources and, when coupled with the difficulties addicts face in keeping long-term employment, causes money issues for the individual and this can spread to the family.

If a parent has used their wages to pay for drugs they may dip into family savings or stop paying the bills so they can fund their habit. Children may start to steal money or valuables from the family home to afford drugs.

Neglect or abuse

Addiction changes the way the brain functions, physically altering the parts of the brain responsible for judgment, decision-making and controlling behaviour. The more addicted a person becomes, the greater the changes in the brain are, and this can cause a person struggling with substance abuse to behave irrationally and potentially dangerously.

An addict’s brain will begin to prioritise where they can get their next fix over caring for their family and they may become aggressive if they are high on drugs or experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

Strained relationships

Substance abuse and the problems that it causes often leads to strained relationships, whether that is between one family member and the drug taker or across the whole family.

If, for example, a teenager develops a substance abuse problem and one parent tries to control the situation and becomes overbearing, and the other parent thinks this approach is making the problem worse, this is likely to put a strain on the marriage. Alternatively, the sibling of the drug user may feel overshadowed or ignored as their parents focus their attention on the child with the substance abuse problem, causing difficulties between the two siblings.

Other effects include:

  • Exposure to drugs
  • Destructive behaviour
  • Reduced trust
  • Poor performance in school
  • Grief
  • Runaway children

How might different family members respond to substance abuse?

Ultimately, every person, addiction and family are different, so the way that each family will experience these issues will differ. Which family member is suffering from Substance Use Disorder (SUD) will also have an impact on how the family is affected.

Some people may cope by isolating themselves from their family, choosing to throw themselves into their work, education, projects, hobbies or social circles; they may also use drugs themselves to escape the realities of their home environment.

Some others may try to help, influence or control the family member struggling with substance abuse

Children of substance-abusing parents

Children who have either one or both parents struggling with substance abuse grow up in unstable homes – receiving inconsistent support, often having to care for themselves and developing coping mechanisms. They are also at increased risk of being emotionally or physically neglected or abused.

Children of addicts also learn behaviours from their parents and are at higher risk of repeating those behaviours themselves.

Children of addicted parents may find they have nobody to turn to for help, particularly if both parents are suffering from SUD.

Parents of substance-abusing children

It’s a different story for parents of children who have substance abuse issues. While parents are in a less vulnerable position than children of addicted parents, it isn’t necessarily any easier. Parents of addicted children will worry about their well-being and are often plagued by guilt and shame, wondering “where did I/we go wrong?”. They may also provide financial support for their children who are experiencing substance abuse in the hopes that they can “turn it all around”, however without tackling the root cause of the addiction and developing healing mechanisms, much of the money feeds the habit.

Siblings of substance abusers

Siblings are often side-lined in the family as parents focus their attention on the sibling with addiction issues, and this can cause feelings of resentment, anger and frustration.

Often, siblings will see what the addiction has done to their family and vow to not go down that path. Sometimes, however, the pain of having an addicted sibling and parents who overlook them can cause them to follow their sibling’s lead and turn to drugs or alcohol.

How can families get through substance abuse?

Rehabilitation centres, like ANA Treatment Centres, offer professional help when it comes to the recovery journey. We provide treatment for the substance user themselves as well as support for the families of those with drug problems. Get in touch today to find out how ANA Treatment Centres can help your family.