How Addiction Affects the Family
Contrary to what many believe, addiction affects more than just the addict; addiction affects the entire family unit. Prolonged abuse will deteriorate the health of your loved one, damage their spirit, and impair their mental function, but this will impact the physical health, finances, and psychological well-being of your entire family. Addiction takes a heavy toll on everyone in the family, and it is important for the entire family to seek help when needed. The effects of drug and alcohol addiction on the family have been well documented, and it is important to learn about the impact addition has on the family as a whole.
The Impact on Children
A child with addictive parents can be changed forever, and one in every five children in America is living with an addicted parent. Children learn by hearing, seeing, reading and through their environment. They watch their parents and are curious about what they see, and the children’s actions mirror the behaviors they have witnessed. Children often verbalize their feelings, but even if children do not verbalize their feelings, parents should not assume the children does not realize what is happening. The stress caused by the turmoil in the home can cause permanent damage and affect the brain development of the child.
Children living with an addicted parent are at a higher risk of developmental delays, and in many instances, their dental and medical needs become neglected. According to a study, 23 percent of children with a mother suffering from addiction were not given any healthcare for their first two years. The behavioral and psychological problems of teens and children of addicts are experienced at a higher rate. Children who live in a home with an addict typically have a challenging home life, and the risk of sexual and physical abuse is much higher. In addition, they may see violence or accidentally inject chemicals or drugs they are unable to handle safely.
The life of the child is often chaotic with little or no supervision or structure. Even when outsiders do not see any problems with the home life, the addicted parent may not be able to provide the love, structure, guidance, and compassion every child needs to thrive. The child may have difficulty making friends or having a relationship with anyone who is not a part of the family. The addiction may cause economic issues resulting in housing instability. Studies have shown children living with an addicted parent experience symptoms similar to a physically abused child.
Many children believe they are responsible for all of the problems, and the child may take on the responsibilities of the parent. The addicted parent may criticize all the child’s actions which would lead to the child taking on even more responsibility to avoid criticism. They work far too hard just to receive a compliment. A child who grows up living with an addicted parent is at a greater risk for behavioral problems, mental health disorders, and learning disabilities, and at times, they might act out irresponsibly or in a peculiar manner at the most inappropriate times.
According to a United States Census, the number of children living with their grandparents increased from 2.4 million to 4.9 million between 2000 and 2010. The two main reasons for this increase are mental disorders and addiction. When the addicted parent has young children, the slack regarding parental disputes often becomes the responsibility of extended family members or grandparents.
Living with an addict parent, the child will miss school more often, and the risk of getting into trouble increases. The child will become upset by the behavior of their parents and often blame themselves for any inappropriate behavior because they feel responsible for fixing the situation. A child who lives with and watches an addictive parent has a higher risk of becoming an addict. A child of an alcoholic has a four times greater chance of suffering from an alcohol disorder, and typically, this begins when they are teenagers and continues once they become an adult.
The Impact on the Spouse
In a domestic partnership, substance abuse leads to issues such as physical and verbal conflicts, and this increases the disagreements regarding substance abuse. The addiction will become the center of the conflict resulting in the temporary suppression of other tensions, but eventually, the source of the disagreements will surface. This is especially true if the couple will not admit they have issues and refuse therapy. Some of the most common issues resulting from substance abuse include:
- Financial Difficulties due to the Cost of Drugs and Alcohol
- Embarrassment or Shame when in a Social Situation
- Legal Issues regarding Illicit Drug Use, Drunk Driving and Child Custody
- Distrust resulting from Broken Promises, Consistent Lies, and Denial of the Abuse
Drugs and alcohol can create an atmosphere of conflict in the home, trigger feelings of resentment and anger, and impair judgment. In the worst scenarios, these emotions can result in physical and verbal abuse, violence, harm, and even death. The estimate is roughly fifty percent of all men being treated for substance abuse have physically abused their partners or wives, and many women engaged in a treatment program have suffered from domestic violence. Any sign or potential sign of abuse needs to be taken extremely seriously in recovery, and any individual who has physically attacked or verbally abused their partner needs anger management courses.
Depending on the specifics of the assault, the addict may be facing legal repercussions. If anyone believes they may be in danger due to an abusive partner, they should contact an abuse treatment professional, healthcare provider, or legal authorities immediately.
The Impact on Parents
Despite the age of the parent’s children, realizing there is a problem with addiction is a harsh and unpleasant awakening, and this can result in either parent questioning their decisions or their parental abilities. Parents of an addictive child can blame themselves for the substance use disorder, but it is important for parents to remember that they should focus on helping their child instead of casting blame. The statistics for addiction include:
- Nine out of every ten Americans who meet addiction criteria started using drugs, drinking, or smoking before they were eighteen.
- Of all high school students using an addictive substance, 33 percent meet the addiction criteria.
- Ten percent of all children between the ages of twelve and seventeen use illicit drugs.
- Of all students in high school, 75 percent used an addictive substance. The addiction criteria are met by one out of five of these students.
- Approximately six percent of all sixteen to seventeen year-olds and seventeen percent of eighteen to twenty year-olds have admitted they drove while under the influence in the past year.
These statistics affect the parents just as much as their children. When the parents are dealing with a teen or adolescent suffering from substance abuse, the entire household and finances are affected. It is essential for parents to arrange help for their child, and if the child needs to be convinced of the issue, a professional intervention should be arranged. It is much more difficult to impose consequences on an adult child, and the difficulty level increases if the child no longer lives with the parents.
The Impact on the Family as a Whole
If you are making explanations, excuses, or lying for a loved one, you are enabling them to remain in denial. There are numerous steps you can take to help your loved one with their addiction, and these steps include the following:
- Staging an Intervention
- Alcoholics Anonymous
- Emotionally Focused Therapy
- Support Groups similar to Nar-Anon and Al-Anon
- Behavioral Therapy
- Couples Therapy
- Asking for Help from Family, Friends, Spouses, and Partners
- A Twelve-step Fellowship
- Sober Living Programs
- Participating in a Community Support Group
- Creating an Environment to sustain Recovery
Many people see fighting substance abuse as a personal experience. Due to the devastation inflicted on the user, many individuals do not consider the impact on the family. When parents, children, and spouses see a member of their family struggle with an addiction, they experience medical, legal and financial consequences in addition to emotional damage. The strain of alcohol and drug abuse can divide a loving home. As conflict becomes normal, trust disappears, and relatives become guarded as the addict becomes aggressive or attempts to secretly hide their disorder. The result of addiction can be a failed marriage or an estranged relationship between parent and child.
The Bottom Line
If one of your loved ones is suffering from drug or alcohol abuse, the best step you can take it getting them the help they need. If the abuse continues, not only their life but the lives of everyone in the family will suffer. Help is available, and you do not have to try to handle everything by yourself. For everyone involved, it is essential to remember that blame should not be assigned, and instead of focusing on the negative, you should focus on providing help the addict needs in order to start the recovery journey.