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how drug and alcohol abuse affects families

How Drug and Alcohol Abuse Affects Families

Most people think drug and alcohol abuse is a very personal experience. While that might be true to an extent, many don’t consider how drug and alcohol abuse affects families. Spouses, children, and parents who witness a family member struggling with addiction also struggle emotionally, legally, medically, and financially. The battles of addiction aren’t solely of the addict. However, in many cases, addiction breaks families, relationships, and connections. 

Addiction and Family Roles

When families are struggling with substance abuse, there’s a shift in dynamics. In most families where addiction is present, we can see some dysfunctional family roles that without noticing each member plays in a desperate attempt to maintain some sort of normalcy. Each character gives you a better understanding of how drug and alcohol abuse affects families. 


The addict takes the central role of the family. Because the addiction comes first in their lives, they end up manipulating and eventually hurting their family members. They isolate themselves, blame their problems on their family, and cause resentment among family members. 


The enabler is often the spouse, partner, or the oldest child. They’re the ones picking up the slack after the addict. They pay the bills, make sure the house stays clean, are responsible for the children, and so on. The enabler might provide the addict with money for drugs and alcohol to help them if they’re struggling and potentially at risk. 


The hero is often the oldest child. They’re overachievers who’re hardworking and excellent in schools. The hero tries to cover up the guilt and anxiety they feel inside. They’re always trying to find a sense of normalcy in their family, so they take on more responsibilities, which can increase their stress and anxiety, often leading to burnout.


Every family has a rebellious member, aka the scapegoat. They’re the ones who misbehave, act out, and remove themselves from the turmoil happening in their homes. Unfortunately, they’re often blamed for the family problems, resenting the addict for putting them in this position. They usually get in trouble with the law, engage in risky sexual behavior, and become physically abusive toward their family members. 


The mascot uses comedy to find relief from everything happening in their family dynamics. They’ll often sacrifice their needs to supple the humor that others need to cope with the situation. However, as they get older, they’re also likely to self-medicate using alcohol or drugs to escape from their family trauma. 

Lost Child

The lost child has underdeveloped social skills and will often isolate themselves. Usually, they’re the middle or youngest child. They engage in fantasy play to distract themselves from their troubled homes. This makes them withdrawn from social engagements. As they get older, they’ll have difficulties forming relationships and putting off important decisions in life.

How Drug and Alcohol Abuse Affects Families

It’s easy to see how substance abuse affects the family. The disease of addiction affects each member differently, and most of the time, it’s negative. Beyond the family dynamics that change, it’s also essential to understand how drug and alcohol abuse affects families, depending on who’s the addict. 

The Impact on Children

As of today, about 1 in every 8 children grow up in a home where a parent or caregiver abuses drugs or alcohol. As a child, being a witness of an addicted parent comes with long-term effects are undeniable. Children of addicts are more likely to develop substance use disorders when they grow up. They’re also three times more likely to being neglected physically and sexually abused. 

It’s common for children to develop feelings of guilt or self-blame for a parent’s substance abuse. They often develop feelings of unworthiness and often develop dysfunctional attachments in their adulthood. Not to mention, in extreme cases, children can be removed from the dysfunctional home environment, where child abuse is present, and placed in foster care. 

When Teenage Addiction Affects the Family

However, addiction dynamics also go the other way around. The CDC reports underaged drinkers to have more drinks per occasion than adults. Close to 19% of individuals between 12 to 20 years old drink alcohol regularly, but researchers believe this figure is much higher. Peer pressure, genetics, self-medication, and other risk factors place teenagers at risk of experimenting with drugs and consequently developing an addiction. 

For parents, seeing their teenage children struggle with addiction is a stressful situation. It’s challenging to find the best way to help them, how to talk to them, and in many cases, how to get to know their addict child. Many parents feel hopeless against addiction and struggle to cope with the situation healthily. 

College Abuse and the Family

Teenagers who abuse substances are more likely to continue their addiction to college. Not to mention, when college parties, peer pressure, and academic pressure kicks in, there’s even a higher probability of children engaging in substance abuse. College drug abuse can lead to sexual assault, aggression, poor academic performance, and more. 

For parents with children in college, it can be challenging to know how their children are doing. With most kids moving away from their homes for college, parents often feel disconnected and don’t realize there’s a problem until the substance use disorder is at full swing. 

Effects of Alcohol and Drug Addiction in Families

Beyond the personal effects of drug and alcohol abuse in families, there’s another layer of problems that arise with addiction. Most families will undergo financial troubles, trauma, trust issues, and sometimes physical and emotional abuse when one or more members are struggling with addiction. 


Addiction isn’t cheap. When someone struggles with substance abuse problems, they often lose their job due to poor performance or attendance. Once that happens, families often have to pay for things such as utilities, mortgages, car payments, clothing, and food. If the addict gets into legal problems, the associated costs are often covered by family members. If there’s an enabler in the household, they might cover some of the addiction costs. 

Not to mention, some addicts, especially those early in their addiction, will steal from family and friends to maintain their addiction. This might be as simple as asking for money for a car payment when in reality, they’re getting more drugs. 


Seeing a loved one struggle with drug or alcohol addiction is exceptionally stressful. The trauma of managing everything that happens increases people’s chances of developing depression or anxiety. Other, mostly children, can struggle with post-traumatic stress disorders or other trauma-related conditions. Not to mention, when the addict physically and emotionally abuses their family member, the trauma left behind is immeasurable. In many cases, family members struggle with mental illness that could be triggered by the addiction.


Of course, addiction breaks any trust in the family unit. Rebuilding trust after addiction takes time and quite often needs professional assistance. Addiction is a tricky disease that breaks trust, relationships, and makes it difficult for the entire family. Even after an addict seeks help, rebuilding the trust within the family unit takes time and effort. 

Physical and Emotional Abuse

Unfortunately, the changes in the brain that result from alcohol and drug abuse alter the addict’s behavior, personality, and ability to reason. Even when someone would never harm a family member without the use of drugs and alcohol can cause physical and emotional harm when under the influence. 

Some drugs make people more aggressive, unable to control their temper, which leads to a higher likelihood of physical abuse towards other family members. Substances like alcohol make it difficult for the addict to control what they say, sometimes resulting in abusive or hurtful language. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, half of all intimate partner violence occurs while at least one partner is under the influence. 

In some cases, drug and alcohol addiction also leads to sexual abuse, particularly of children. This happens if a parent under the influence invites other addicts to the house for extended periods while the children are at home. Most of the time, these other individuals or in some tragic cases, the parent abuses the children. 

Risk of Disease

Finally, addiction elevates the risk of disease among the family. Many addictions increase the risk of infections such as HIV and hepatitis B and C. When the addict is using intravenous drugs or engages in risky sexual behavior, these infections are bound to happen. 

These diseases can spread between sexual partners, particularly before one partner becomes aware of the other’s substance abuse. They can also be passed on from mother to baby during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Not to mention, the addict is also at higher risk of developing diseases such as specific cancers and organ damage. 

Addiction Treatment in the Family

Addiction is a complex and challenging process to treat when it affects the whole family. To treat addiction in the family, our specialists recommend a comprehensive approach that helps rebuild trust, treat underlying conditions, assess the relationship damage, and more.

Drug and Alcohol Rehab

The first step is that whoever is struggling with addiction chooses to go to drug and alcohol rehab. Their recovery journey will most likely start with a drug and alcohol detox program to ensure they detoxify in a safe, secure, and comfortable environment. After completion, they’ll move into an inpatient rehab or an intensive outpatient program to continue their recovery process. 

Most of the time, when users struggle with multiple drugs and alcohol, as well as with underlying mental health disorders, they’ll need a dual diagnosis program. These types of programs help address both issues simultaneously, which guarantee a better long-term recovery. 

Rebuilding Trust

Through individual and group therapy, recovering addicts start to regain trust in themselves. As addicts begin to learn coping mechanisms, and they advanced through their recovery journey, rebuilding trust with their family members will become easier. Not to mention, it will become a paramount step in their recovery. 

Family Therapy

With addiction on family members, rebuilding trust doesn’t happen overnight. Most addicts need assistance in figuring out how to talk to their family members. We believe in integrating family therapy sessions to help rebuild the trust, rebuild connections, and regain the family unit. Through family therapy, we can slowly work on family dynamics, support the recovering addict, make amends, and continue to work together as a family. 

Aftercare Recovery Programs

Unfortunately, addiction isn’t a trip to rehab, and you’re done. It’s a long-life journey. Because of the nature of the addiction disease, relapse is bound to happen unless you have the right support system by your side. Joining aftercare treatment programs that include 12-step group meetings, life skills development programs, and more will help addicts work towards long-term sobriety.

Getting Help

If your family is struggling with addiction, don’t let it fall for all the effects of drug and alcohol abuse. We know this is a trying time, but we also know there’s hope, and we can help. Seek treatment today. At Lighthouse Recovery Institute, our comprehensive addiction recovery programs are designed with family in mind. Contact us today to learn more about our treatment center and start walking the path towards recovery as a family. 

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