Experts in the field of addiction science may differ in the most effective way to treat substance abuse, but there is one thing they all agree on. Ask any expert in the trenches, and they will tell you that when one member of the family is addicted, every other member of the family suffers right along with them.
Those family members may not struggle in the same ways as the alcoholics and drug addicts themselves, but that does not make their suffering any less real, or any less problematic. Before you can focus on getting an addicted or alcoholic loved one to accept your offers of treatment, you must first face how their substance use has impacted you and your fellow family members. Here are 10 ways substance abuse impacts the entire family, not just the alcoholic or drug addict.
- Greater danger of teenage experimentation – Substance use disorder is a disease, and like other illnesses, it can be highly communicable. When the adults in the household are using drugs or abusing alcohol, the younger residents may follow suit.
- Increased risk of domestic violence – Violence and volatility are often part of drug addiction and alcoholism, and struggling with a substance use disorder can increase the risk of household squabbles turning toxic and even violent.
- Financial stress – Feeding a drug habit or buying endless amounts of alcohol is expensive, and the vast majority of drug addicts and alcoholics will experience severe financial stress as a result of their dependency. And like the underlying illness, the financial stress and strain of substance use disorder will likely spread to other members of the family.
- Problems with employment – Keeping a job can be hard for an alcoholic or drug addict, and issues on the job are all too common. The job losses alcoholics and drug addicts suffer will ripple through the entire household, creating high levels of stress, financial uncertainty, and other serious difficulties.
- Legal repercussions – Buying drugs is illegal, and so is using them, and that can create legal repercussions for the entire family. Allowing a family member to use drugs under their roof could leave well-meaning family members or friends in legal jeopardy, creating long-lasting problems that go far beyond the individual addict.
- Feelings of guilt – When a child or grandchild is addicted to drugs or struggling with an alcohol dependency, parents and grandparents may blame themselves or wonder what they could have done differently. These feelings of guilt can be pervasive, creating mental health problems for family members who simply want the best for their loved ones.
- The temptation to engage in enabling behavior – It is easy for family members to cross the line between supporting the person they love and enabling their self-destructive behavior. Enabling is a huge risk for family members of alcoholics and drug addicts, and one of the biggest challenges loved ones face.
- Feelings of anger and isolation – The family members of drug addicts and alcoholics may feel angry at their loved ones, blaming them for their addiction and lashing out in hurtful and counterproductive ways. Feelings of isolation are also common, especially if the addicted or alcoholic family member has shattered relationships with others in the family.
- Lack of support from others – Even after all these years, there is still a great deal of misunderstanding about drug addiction and alcoholism, and a troubling lack of empathy for those caught in its grip. As a result, the family members of drug addicts and alcoholics may find a lack of support among their own social circle, further reinforcing the isolation and despair they already feel.
- Increased risk of family breakup – Substance use disorder does not just impact families; drug addiction and alcoholism can actually destroy family relationships, wreaking havoc on marriages, driving a wedge between parents and their children, and creating lifelong scars that will be hard to heal.
Some illnesses impact only the person suffering from them, but others are much more far-reaching. Alcoholism, drug addiction, and other forms of substance use disorder clearly belong in the latter category, and it is important for family members to recognize the suffering they are going through, even as they try to help their loved ones into recovery.