How Drug Addiction Affects Families

There is nothing harder than finding out that you have a loved one who is addicted to drugs or alcohol. It’s something that can create a lot of problems in a family. If you have a loved one with a substance use disorder in your family, you are probably aware that it can be harmful on so many levels. Often, it can undermine trusting relationships and compromise healthy communication. Sometimes, a sense of hopelessness can develop over time as a previously healthy relationship deteriorates and you watch your loved one succumb to the toxic patterns of addiction.

The Effects of Substance Abuse

You might notice your loved one withdraw from important activities or family engagements. Oftentimes, people end up in a financial crisis and even lose their jobs. It can be really hard to watch someone you love engage in high-risk behavior like drinking and driving, sharing dirty needles, or even taking substances from an unreliable source. With the increasing influx of fentanyl on our streets and the severe risk of overdose with this substance, it makes sense that you would be worried.

Family Members and Addiction

There are many things to consider when you have a loved one who is addicted to drugs or alcohol. One of the most important things to understand is how family factors play a role in addiction. Sometimes, there is a history of parental substance abuse, and this history creates an increased risk of getting involved in illicit substances. Family substance abuse and addiction impacts young children and can also play a role in your loved one’s involvement in drugs or alcohol. The adverse childhood experiences (ACE’s) study has helped many people understand risk factors and protective factors related to substance abuse problems and other issues.

The Role of Family in Recovery

We don’t want to overlook the fact that even though families have risk factors, they also contain many protective factors. These are things that buffer against the risk of engaging in substance abuse in the first place or help increase the possibility of recovery. Your involvement in your loved one’s life is a great protector!

There is a lot of research to support family involvement as a powerful tool in enhancing the possibility of recovery. What we know from the science is that you simply cannot show too much support, and the best path to recovery is with parental involvement. Family therapy can have a positive impact on the recovery process for the whole family. After all, addiction is a family disease that requires healing for everyone who may have been affected. A consistently involved family member offering emotional support is a powerful counterbalance to override the difficulty of trying to navigate all the stress of growing up in a world of uncertainty.

Enabling Substance Use Disorders

You might be thinking that you would do anything to help your loved one recover from their addiction. But sometimes good intentions, such as supporting them financially and even allowing them to live with you rent-free, can end up backfiring and, rather than helping, ends up enabling. Enabling is generally a supportive behavior that contributes to the continued use of drugs and alcohol. Anytime you do anything that allows them to continue to abuse substances without accountability or consequences is considered enabling.

Some other examples of enabling include supporting them financially while they are unemployed and this might also mean you are supporting them in purchasing their drug of choice. Maybe it seems like a safe alternative to enable them and keep them from hitting rock bottom, but ultimately, they probably need some tough love as hard as it is.

Enabling is an easy pattern to get into when you love someone so much. Please remember that their addiction is not your fault, even if you feel responsible and have made mistakes in the past. Your loved one is making a choice, and sometimes the best thing you can do is to help them get into treatment. Sometimes people need to hit rock bottom before they understand the severity of their disease.

The Importance of Healthy Boundaries

We could say that healthy boundaries are the exact opposite of enabling behaviors. When a loved one is actively addicted, boundaries can become blurred due to erratic behavior and the perception that they need ongoing help with daily activities.

Maybe you shouldn’t make excuses for them any longer. Maybe it’s better not to give them money anymore. Maybe it’s better not to bail them out of jail. Sometimes, family members even neglect themselves and their own needs in service of a loved one who is actively using. Maybe it’s time for you to take care of yourself! Saying “no” to your loved one and prioritizing personal self-care might be an important step for you and your loved one.

What are Boundaries?

Let’s take a moment to define the term boundary. The New Oxford Dictionary says a boundary is a line that marks the limit of an area, a dividing line. Okay, so limits and lines, but we need to take this a step further. Boundaries are about predictability, safety, and self-care. Where you end and your loved one begins.

Ron Grover, from The Partnership to End Addiction, said regarding his son’s addiction, that he often struggled with anger because he could not control his son’s behavior. He learned that when someone is addicted, they might not follow the rules. He tells us you are at risk of living in an “angry and frustrating world” if you expect someone with an addiction to follow the rules.

Rules vs. Boundaries

Remember that rules and boundaries are not the same thing. Rules are simple and are for other people. Boundaries, on the other hand, are your allies when simple rules no longer apply. Ron tells us that poor boundaries were probably responsible for inadvertently supporting his son’s addiction. Trying to control someone generally doesn’t work and creates more relational problems.

Boundaries are about the integrity of the self. It is okay to set boundaries physically, financially, and emotionally by being honest with yourself and your loved one. Here’s a good example: when your loved one needs something from you ASAP and you have other plans, continue with your plans, expressing honestly your ability to help or not help at another time. Often, addicts need whatever it is right now, and that probably doesn’t work for you if you have good boundaries.

How Addiction Affects the Family

The truth is you know how this is affecting your family. You know your family history, and now you have some ideas about what risk and protective factors are, what enabling behavior looks like, and why boundaries are so important. We know here at New Life House that when drugs and alcohol are present, a family likely lives in an unstable environment, and it can be almost impossible to plot a course forward without help. Specifically, teenage addiction affects the family system in different ways that can be hard to navigate. You do not have to do it alone.

How Drug and Alcohol Abuse Changes the Family Dynamic

Life with addiction can create an incredible amount of stress where normalcy is constantly interrupted by pleas for help, chaos, and manipulation. A chronically overwhelming emotional environment can create physical and mental health problems, strained relationships between immediate and other family members, and even paranoia. Sometimes, people will do anything to maintain homeostasis, even at the cost of their own well-being. It can go on for many years and foster dysfunctional communication and other ways of relating that can become increasingly problematic.

Resources for Parents

When addiction takes hold of a family unit, it can be hard to know where to turn for help. Oftentimes, a loved one with a substance abuse problem is entirely unaware of the many ways addiction affects the family. Parents struggling to find direction may benefit from support groups such as Al-Anon and parents of addicted loved ones (PALS).

Much like support groups for alcoholics such as AA, Al-Anon and PALS are programs designed for family members where they can learn about addiction, identify harmful behaviors, and gain insight into unhealthy coping mechanisms that could be adding to the problem.

Substance Abuse Treatment

Helping your loved one get into treatment can be a first step in addressing the underlying needs that the addiction is masking. There are many levels of treatment available. Different levels of treatment are generally related to the severity of your loved one’s addiction and include intensive outpatient (IOP), partial hospitalization programs (PHP), residential rehab, withdrawal management, and medication for substance use disorders.

Overcoming Teenage Addiction

Overcoming a substance use disorder can be very difficult without professional help. If you are reading this because you have a loved one who is actively addicted to drugs or alcohol, please do not hesitate to reach out. New Life House offers a structured recovery home based on current best practices and offers your loved one an opportunity to recover in an environment with supportive and caring professionals. Call to learn more about our structured sober living program in Los Angeles. You do not have to do it alone.


Last Updated on February 22, 2024


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