How Substance Abuse Can Affect the Entire Family

Substance abuse can affect the entire family.


Family is the basis of our existence, and it can be the source of strength and love, but it can also foster insecurities, negativity, etc. When faced with a problem, different families will find their way to deal with it. Some are radical and will do anything to help, while others will shut down and try to ignore it. Addiction of a family member is a serious issue that can shake the whole world of the family, disrupting the lives of each member. Learning how substance abuse can affect the entire family can help the involved family members deal with this problem and overcome this challenge together. Remember – good or bad; a family is a team.

Substance abuse affects communication in the family

One of the first things that can get affected is communication. And it’s the foundation of trust and family relationships. Once lines of communication are no longer open, conflicts become more regular and intense. This is a serious issue, as even though other family members try to work on it, the person under the effects of alcohol or drugs can’t communicate clearly. They often start lying to their family or simply not remembering details, and that’s how additional problems happen due to substance abuse.

Spouse/relationship issues

An intimate relationship is one of the things that gets affected. Actually, there probably aren’t many happy couples with one of them using alcohol or drugs. As substance abuse gets more serious, couples become more distant, with conflicts frequently occurring in their relationship. Very often, such relationships end with break-ups or divorce. And divorce affects all family members, especially children, and leads to the division of the household. Spouses will get into conflicts related to substance abuse, money issues, responsibilities about kids and house, etc. Unfortunately, many of these arguments can get violent, especially if one of the spouses is under the effect of drugs or alcohol.

Parents are struggling as well

When a child has a problem with addiction, their parents can go through all sets of emotions and other mental issues. Very often, some parents will try not to notice it and deny that their child has a problem. Next, parents can feel responsible for these issues, as they are the ones who are raising their children. The situation can unfold in a couple of different directions:

  • Parents do everything they can to save the child, which involves a lot of strength and frustration and the will to fix everything.
  • Supporting the child financially, worrying that they will leave or do something worse if that doesn’t happen. This is where parents hope that things will sort out on their own – which rarely happens;
  • Total despair and confusion, an illusion that things are okay. Parents feel powerless and can’t do anything about it.

The exact situation will depend on the child’s age and family relations. Either way, parents express deep feelings of worry and suffering, which often affects their mental and physical health. Finally, the role of the caretaker can be too overwhelming, turning the parent into the biggest victim of the addiction. However, the person who’s addicted needs to know that their family is a safe place, which can be one reason to get sober. Family is a safe harbor to go back to after any issue you might have.

Kids are strongly affected by substance abuse in their family

If one of the parents is using any substances, they are often not aware of how well kids can see that. Even though they’re ‘just kids,’ they can clearly feel the disbalance in their family, the other parent being sad or angry, etc. The situation is slightly different when we compare kids who live with both parents and those who live with just one parent. Even though both situations are bad, kids who live in a two-parent household usually have the support and understanding from the other parent. Either way, kids who go through such things in their childhood often develop insecurity, aggression, confidence, and even health problems.


Another victim of substance abuse in families is often the sibling of the addict. Commonly, parents are focused on the child who has the addiction, forgetting about the needs of their other kids. Those kids can feel abandoned but also go through feelings of resentment and anger. Depending on the situation, some siblings can participate and try to help their brother or sister. Also, some of them can try to step away, feeling they shouldn’t suffer because of their sibling. This can lead to alienation and estrangement in the family – broken sibling relationships that are often hard to repair.

Dealing with substance abuse in a family

Substance abuse can affect the entire family, and facing it head-on is the only way to overcome it. Working as a team will give better results. Open communication is the foundation of every solution. Suffering in silence or quietly taking the blame will not do much, so it’s necessary to communicate and talk about possible solutions and your feelings. Almost every family of an addict has members that take different roles – the silent one, the caretaker, the funny one, etc. To help everything go back to normal, all of these roles need to unify towards the same goal – a happy and stable family.

Furthermore, experts can help you overcome these issues, whether it’s you or another family member that is affected by substance abuse. Family therapy is a great way to share your feelings and get advice from a professional with a lot of experience with such situations. Also, there’s individual therapy, which can help family members feel heard and validated. Whether you’re an addict or a family member that suffers, individual therapy is a way to focus on your feelings and issues.

Finally, remembering why you’re doing this will help a lot. Try to reminisce about all the love and support you got from your family before the addiction happened. Helping a loved one get into treatment can be challenging, so love and patience are what it takes to succeed. Substance abuse can affect the entire family, but the family can also band together to overcome it. Feel free to ask for help, as taking care of a loved one is quite challenging and can pull down all the family members into despair.

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