Addiction isn’t just an individual problem. How addiction affects families is far-reaching and profound.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) found that 60% of all violence against spouse/partner involved substance abuse. But addiction doesn’t just include things like drugs and alcohol. Excessive gambling, porn, video games, food restriction — these are all forms of addiction that tear families apart.
And taking a closer look at the impact may be the wake-up call you need to make a change in your life.
Blame-Shifting and Turning Others Into Caretakers
Often when a loved one is addicted, family and friends blame themselves rather than holding the individual accountable. For example, a parent may tell themselves they should have done more. Or a spouse may feel if they could just do things right, you wouldn’t need to use drugs. Additionally, the person with the addiction may reinforce these beliefs by using them to get back at those they love. So all the blaming keeps families from addressing the real issue, addiction. The truth is addiction is a mental health disorder. So it is treatable.
An addict gives up their ability to care for themselves. They may try to drive while under the influence. They may spend endless hours on a video game instead of getting a job. This “forces” even small children to take on the role of parents. At the same time, a family member may feel they must care for you financially. How addiction affects families creates unhealthy family dynamics. They love you, but it’s destroying their health, life, and happiness.
How Addiction Affects Families: A Cycle of Abuse
When someone in the home has an addiction, they often develop abusive behavior stemming from:
Ultimately, these extreme feelings come out in hurtful words and actions. The result is lasting damage. You may thoroughly regret afterward and swear, “never again.” But this does even more damage because promises aren’t kept.
How addiction affects families runs through every aspect of life.
82% of family members surveyed said that their loved one’s addiction had caused them financial hardships. Many family members feel obligated to lend money they don’t have, especially if the addicted person has children who will be harmed as well.
A life partner and children may not know if the water or electricity will be shut off. They face an unpredictable future.
Passing It to the Next Generation
Studies show that children of people who abuse substances are more likely to harm them themselves. As researchers dove into the cause-effect relationship, two things stood out. First, around 40% has to do with the environment in which the child was raised, not genetics or other factors. When looking at that environment, they found one over-arching characteristic in the child’s environment. That characteristic was “unpredictability.”
Children in homes with one or both parents abusing alcohol often face very unpredictable lives. They may not know if Mommy is going to be home for their birthday. They don’t know if Daddy is going to forget to pick them up after school again. Will their parent be embarrassingly drunk when they invite friends over?
They may be left to fend for themselves when it comes to preparing dinner or even having food to eat. Moving from home to home may be the norm. Children may live in fear of physical, emotional, or sexual violence from the same parent who, at other times, shows healthy affection. However, it doesn’t matter what you’re addicted to. If it’s creating this kind of unpredictability, you’re putting your children at a disadvantage.
Breaking the Cycle of How Addiction Affects Families
Addiction is a mental health disorder experienced by one person. But it’s everyone’s problem. So everyone in the family can be a part of the solution.
Addiction treatment that includes family counseling can help families faced with the uncertainty of addiction. For instance, in these programs, you learn how to:
- Set healthy boundaries
- Communicate with each other
- Support loved ones with addiction in healthy ways
- Reinforce what you’re learning in cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy