If one person is addicted to alcohol or drugs, the entire family is affected. Often, the addicted person is a product of his own family environment, which may be dysfunctional or loveless due to addiction, parental unavailability, mental illness, detachment, harsh parenting methods, or an environment where material abundance takes precedence over the needs of the family. Sometimes, both parents are addicted and children lack a single stable parent.
This cycle can continue to affect the mental and physical health of family members for generations.
Partners and spouses
- Partners and spouses of addicted people often feel betrayed and resentful towards the addicted person, who may be secretive, evasive or dishonest.
- Stress, anxiety and depression are common for partners and spouses of addicts.
- Partners and spouses may find it difficult to maintain friendships and a healthy social life due to the behavior of the addicted partner.
- Living with an addicted person is exhausting, especially when responsibilities at home fall primarily on the non-addicted partner.
- Financial difficulties often result when the addicted spouse has legal difficulties or becomes unemployed.
- Partners and spouses may become fearful, nervous and hyper-vigilant as they wait for the next episode of drug or alcohol use.
- Emotional distance and lack of intimacy created by addiction are difficult to overcome and often lead to divorce or broken relationships.
Children of addicted families
- Children are a family’s most vulnerable members; they suffer most when a family member is addicted.
- Children of addicts may exhibit behavioral problems. They may lie, cheat, fight or steal.
- Schoolwork often suffers due to absence of a dependable routine. Children may have learning problems. They may skip school and are more likely to drop out.
- Children of addicts are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol than children who grow up families without addiction.
- Low self-esteem, anxiety and depression are common for children who live in addicted families.
- Children of addicts tend to have social problems. They may have difficulty making or keeping friends.
- Children of addicts may attempt to overcompensate for the family situation. They may become controlling or perfectionistic as a way to maintain a sense of stability.
- Children who grow up with an addicted family member may feel guilty because they can’t help the addicted person.
- Children in families with addiction problems often suffer from trauma through abuse and neglect. Adverse childhood experiences can severely impinge on the quality of life, health and even life expectancy of the next generation. Realizing this huge impact is often a big motivation for recovery. This video is a good source of information.
Enabling is common in addicted families
- Family members may deny that a problem exists, which prevents the addicted family member from seeking help in a timely manner. Family members may rationalize, excuse or justify the behavior of the addicted person.
- Enabling occurs when family members “take care of” the addicted person and allow the addiction to continue by paying bills or legal expenses, giving them money, making excuses or cleaning up messes. Family members may mean well, but they are doing great harm by preventing the addiction person from facing the natural consequences of their addiction.
- Family members often place a high premium on appearances, and prefer to act as though all is well. This is a form of enabling the person to continue using.
- It is possible to stop the cycle of addiction
Addiction is a chronic disease that is frequently misunderstood. It is not a moral failing or a weakness and is not cause for guilt or shame for family, or for the addicted person. The addicted person should never be blamed, shamed or belittled.
The addicted person is responsible for his own behavior. Similarly, family members are responsible for their behavior. They are not responsible for the behavior of the addicted person. Anger at the addicted family member is normal.
It is possible for family members to display love, compassion and support without enabling.
There is no known final cure for addiction, but with comprehensive addiction treatment, the disease is manageable. However, getting better is a process that requires patience, commitment, motivation and dedication.
Family therapy is an important aspect of healing. Through therapy with skilled addiction professionals, family members express feelings and find ways of healing past hurts and broken relationships. Reconciliation is possible.
Family members who are affected by addiction of a loved one often benefit from individual counseling and therapy. In many cases, support groups have proven very helpful.