How Substance Abuse Impacts the Family System

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October 10, 2017
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How Substance Abuse Impacts the Family System

addiction and family systems

When one person is suffering, the entire family suffers too. This is true for most diseases, including heart disease, dementia, and multiple sclerosis – but it’s especially true for substance abuse.

Substance abuse is a far-reaching disease that can impact family members in various ways. Everyone in an addict’s immediate family will be affected. Unfortunately, no one can escape the effects of drug addiction. It can impact the family’s finances as well as their emotional and physical health.

The severity of addiction does factor into the overall impact, but there are some common ways that addiction hurts the family system.

Addiction Changes Family Roles

Whether we realize it or not, we all have a role to play in our families. Maybe you’re the organizer or the one who brings the family together. We each play our part in creating balance within our homes. Naturally, when one family member suffers from addiction, that balance is disturbed.

It’s as if there’s another family member and everyone must adjust to accommodate the addiction.

Here are some common roles that family members take on:

  • The enabler – In many families, but not all, this is the mom and/or dad or non-addicted spouse. Parents and spouses tend to play the enabler role because their love is so strong for that it’s difficult to see their loved ones hurting or unhappy. In an effort to appease their loved ones, parents or spouses may unintentionally become enablers.
  • The superhero – This role is typically played by a child who isn’t suffering from addiction. Seeing that the family is in disarray, this child steps up to handle things. He or she may become an overachiever at school and/or at home. Superheros may care for other siblings or take on more than their share of chores. This person wants everything to be okay, and they’re going to do everything in their power to maintain a sense of normal.
  • The attention-seeker – This role is usually played by a non-addicted child who is lashing out because they feel that addiction has taken their spotlight. This child is likely to engage in negative behavior at home and act out in school.
  • The addict – The addict knows that he isn’t in full control of his actions. Depending on the person, this may lead to shame. Other addicts may use it as an excuse for their behavior, which will lead to resentment and anger.

alcoholicHow an Addicted Parent Impacts the Family

Children suffer the most when the addicted family member is one of their parents. Unfortunately, the impacts are deep and long-lasting. Having an addicted parent can lead to emotional scars that the child will carry with her into adulthood. Children of parents who struggle with substance abuse are more likely to suffer from:

  • Guilt
  • Low-self-esteem
  • Loneliness
  • Anxiety
  • Fear of abandonment
  • Chronic depression
  • Feelings of helplessness

Children of alcoholics are four times more likely to develop alcoholism and are more likely to marry an abusive spouse later in life. Parents who suffer from substance abuse are also more likely to get divorced, and that comes with another its own set of common issues.

How Having an Addicted Child Impacts the Family

When a child suffers from addiction, it can take a serious emotional toll on everyone, especially the parents. They worry about their child’s safety and well-being, and they also may begin to question their own abilities as parents. Parents of addicted children can feel hopeless, but they do have some financial power. This may not end addiction in itself, but parents can cut funds to children who are abusing substances. From here, it may be easier to get the child to agree to a treatment program. If they no longer have access to drugs or alcohol, they may be forced to admit they have a problem.

How Having an Addicted Partner Impacts the Family

Unfortunately, there is a strong link between substance abuse and domestic violence. People who abuse substances are more likely to abuse their partners, and people who are victims of abuse are more likely to abuse substances. It can be a vicious cycle.

How to Handle Addiction in the Family

Regardless of which family member is suffering, parent, spouse or child, the first thing you should understand is that you’re not alone. While no one has had your precise experience, many have had very similar experiences.

If you are in an abusive situation, get help for yourself right away. There are organizations that can help abused partners find safe refuge from abuse in order to rebuild.

If you want to help a parent, child, or spouse who is suffering from substance abuse, start the conversation. Talk to them about the problem and the need to get help before it takes an even bigger hold on the family. Talk about how it is impacting every family member and how you need to heal together as a family unit. From here, you can help get that person into rehab and begin your long path to recovery.

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