Substance use disorder (SUD) is a chronic disease that affects the brain and body. It’s characterized by an inability to control one’s use of alcohol and other harmful and potentially addictive substances, despite detrimental consequences.
When a family member has a substance use problem, it takes a toll on the entire family. Every member of the family is affected in some way, whether it’s through witnessing the addiction firsthand, dealing with the financial consequences, or simply feeling the emotional fallout. Here, we take a look at some ways in which substance use disorder affects families.
The Impact of Substance Use Disorder on Families
Substance use disorder doesn’t just impact the affected person; it impacts everyone in their life, especially close family members and friends. Here are some ways in which substance use disorder can affect families:
Addiction is expensive. Between the cost of the drugs or alcohol itself and any legal troubles that may arise, it’s not uncommon for addicts to rack up debt—and often, that debt falls on the shoulders of their loved ones to pay off.
In addition, the affected person may lose their job because of their substance use issues, which can further strain finances. As a result, families often have to tighten their budgets and make sacrifices in other areas of their lives to make ends meet.
Addicts often lie and manipulate those closest to them to get what they want – which can take a toll on their emotional wellbeing. Family members may feel like they can’t trust their addicted loved one, which can cause tension, conflict, or violence within the family. For children living in homes with an addicted parent, this sense of distrust can be compounded by feelings of abandonment, shame, and fear.
In addition, seeing a loved one fight a losing battle with substance use can be incredibly heartbreaking and frustrating. Family members may feel helpless as they watch their loved one’s condition spiral out of control, and that feeling of helplessness can lead to anger and resentment.
Addiction almost always has a negative impact on relationships within the family. For example, a parent with a substance use problem may have difficulty being emotionally present for their children, which often culminates in child abuse and neglect. Children of parents with SUD are also at greater risk for developing SUD themselves, according to a study published by the Child Welfare Information Gateway.
Siblings may also have a strained relationship if one sibling is struggling with addiction; sometimes, sibling dynamics can become so toxic that siblings wind up estranged from one another. Of course, all of this conflict takes an additional toll on marriages; when spouses are dealing with addiction, it’s not uncommon for them to grow apart—or even get divorced.
All the stress and emotional turmoil that comes with having a loved one living with substance use problems can take a psychological toll on family members. Parents may feel guilty, anxious, or depressed. Children may develop behavioral problems or experience anxiety and depression.
It is no secret that the consequences of substance use can be detrimental and far-reaching. If you have a loved one with substance use disorder, the best thing you can do for them is to encourage them to get help from a professional. Unlike popular belief, substance use disorder is not a choice – it is a serious mental illness that requires treatment.
With proper treatment and the love and support of family and friends, people with substance use disorders can make a full recovery and go on to lead happy, healthy, and fulfilling lives. Also, remember to take care of yourself and reach out for help if needed. Dealing with a loved one’s addiction can be incredibly difficult, and it’s important to ensure you don’t neglect your own well-being in the process.