Addiction And The Family

Having a challenging conversation with a loved one can be cathartic.


The home and family should represent safe spaces for creating nurturing relationships and raising functioning individuals within the home and community. Family members are expected to benefit from healthy communication and enriching experiences in this safe space. In this caring environment is physical and emotional safety.


However, a family member addicted to alcohol or drugs within the home strains the family dynamic. As a result, the addicted person tends to receive excessive amounts of attention because of their substance use. Consequently, the constant attention leaves non-addicted family members divided, emotionally and physically neglected. Some members think the addict should be held accountable for their alcohol or drug use. Others are sympathetic to the person's struggle with addiction. Those family members appearing to be unsympathetic to the addictive behaviors have usually become dissatisfied with hearing the person with the addiction "talk of change."

Indeed, addiction is a struggle for the family and the addict. But for different reasons, the addict may think they have control over their lives, and family members are infringing on their right to live on their terms. As a result, the addict may not see any problem with their continued substance use. All this is happening while the family unit is becoming dysfunctional. Family life becomes stressful, with members feeling trapped in an untenable situation. While the family is concerned with restoring the stability and structure of their lives.


The impact of addiction on a family is hardly quantifiable; it is immense. For example, suppose you have the opportunity to sit in a family group at a drug rehabilitation center on a Saturday or Sunday evening. In that case, you will hear heartbreaking stories of people losing their loved ones to drug addiction. The pain is palpable. The verbal, emotional, and physical abuse stories are tough to hear.


You will hear statements like the ones listed below. You hear resentment, hostility, anger, and longing for their loved one's return from the desperation of addiction. Sometimes, there's nothing more painful in these sessions than hearing children struggle to find the words to express their feelings. Some have to assume adult responsibilities because their parent is absent from the family or caring for the addicted parent.

  • "You can stop if you want to."

  • "You are so selfish."

  • "You are sacrificing your family just so you can get high."

  • "I'm done with you and your excuses about your drug use."

  • "You have been to every rehab and keep making the same choices."

  • "You are mentally weak, and I'm done putting up with you and this madness."

  • "I don't know what to say and do anymore because you take us for granted."

  • "I can't stand that you continue to choose drugs over your family."

  • "I'm done making excuses for you. I want back my life."

  • "You promised to stop using drugs for our family."

  • "We need you at home; I'm struggling on my own with the children."

  • "You've been absent for so long; I no longer know where you fit into the family."

Having a parent struggling with drugs and or alcohol problems is by far the hardest, especially for children. Unfortunately, the effects of substance abuse are across-the-board and can cause several issues for those children. These problems range from embarrassment, scapegoating, low self-esteem, emotional and mental health problems, abandonment, and attachment issues.

In some families struggling with addictions, young children lack the emotional capacity to understand why a parent would continue to use drugs or alcohol despite the negative consequences. These children internalize the reason and sometimes think they are responsible for their parent's substance dependence. This lack of emotional capacity, coupled with the lack of support from their parent, results in that child feeling unloved and they become withdrawn, depressed, angry, and resentful.


Support Services


There is help available for anyone struggling with drug or alcohol addiction. It is challenging to cope when a loved one is struggling with addiction. As a family, you feel you have done enough and given them enough chances to change or seek help. Because addiction affects the entire family, it is good to start getting help for the family through individual therapy or family counseling. In addition, there are Alateen support groups for teenagers with addicted parents. There are also Al-Anon support groups for family and friends of alcoholics. Also, Nar-Anon family groups are for those with family members addicted to narcotics. All the groups are structured, and some are facilitated by behavioral health professionals. Others are facilitated by trained group facilitators.


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