How Addiction Impacts the Whole Family
Most people understand that substance use disorder (SUD) can negatively impact an individual’s personal life. However, when someone struggles with SUD, it impacts the entire family. Rarely, SUD can seem like a hardship that a family struggles to deal with, but in many cases, SUD destroys the individual’s relationship with their spouse and children. Those who haven’t experienced it firsthand may not understand how addiction affects the whole family, but it’s crucial to be aware of the familial impacts of SUD.
As someone who has traveled the road to recovery myself, my goal isn’t to simply heal the individual from the physical symptoms of SUD but also to facilitate healing and hope for both the individual and their family, whether it’s physically, mentally, or emotionally. I’ve seen families torn apart due to one individual’s SUD, and it can be incredibly challenging to repair these relationships while maintaining sobriety. If you or a loved one are struggling with SUD and are worried about how addiction impacts the family, keep in mind that there’s always hope for a brighter future.
I’d like to discuss the effects SUD can have on the family and what you can do to both prevent and recover from them.
How SUD Hurts the Family
SUD can cause significant hardships that family members will experience firsthand. Unfortunately, when these impacts are ignored or untreated, there could be devastating consequences. SUD hurts the family in several ways, all of which can be prevented or resolved with proper help.
People who have a loved one with SUD often experience increased worry as well as increasingly stressful situations, which heightens their stress and prevents them from sleeping efficiently. I understand how overwhelming it can be to see your loved one struggle due to SUD, especially when they may not see another path forward without substance use. Even if you know the proper steps to take when your loved one uses substances, this is still a stressful period in your life, which can negatively affect your health.
Even the simplest components of maintaining healthy relationships with people with SUD can become stressful. One of the most common causes for this is due to what professionals call “enabling.” Enabling occurs when a loved one allows the person with SUD to continue using substances without consequences.
Enabling can take many forms and can even apply to behaviors you may not intend to help the person get access to substances. Acts such as loaning money, making excuses, and more can be considered enabling, and this can negatively impact the relationship as the individual with SUD is deprived of the opportunity to experience consequences and make their own decisions to improve.
Physical Abuse and Manipulation
Sometimes, the person with SUD may act irrationally or aggressively. When used heavily or continuously, substances can completely alter the brain’s chemistry and pathways, and many people experiencing SUD do things they never thought they would do. This can, unfortunately, include physical or emotional abuse toward a loved one. Abuse can certainly heighten the tension in the family and is extremely difficult to resolve on your own. Research shows that a parent with SUD is approximately three times more likely to physically or sexually abuse their child.
Abuse isn’t always physical. People with SUD may attempt to deceive or manipulate their loved ones so they can continue substance use. It’s crucial for loved ones to communicate with and listen to their loved one with SUD but set boundaries as well. If you experience behaviors that are out of line, stand your ground and suggest they seek treatment that will put a halt to these damaging behaviors.
Problems with money are common for people struggling with SUD. In addition to spending family finances on increasing amounts of their substance of choice, financial problems can come about in other ways. In some cases, individuals may lose their job due to their inability to manage their SUD, and they are no longer able to provide support for their children and other loved ones. These financial problems don’t only affect the ones with SUD but their loved ones as well. People with SUD may also experience legal trouble as a result of substance use, which can trigger severe financial penalties that are difficult to overcome.
Negatively Influencing Children
Children abused by a parent with SUD are 50% more likely to be arrested as a juvenile and 40% more likely to commit a violent crime. This is a prime example of the way children are more likely to develop SUD if their parents have it as well. However, a child need not experience abuse to suffer the negative impacts of a parent’s substance use. A child’s entire well-being can be negatively influenced by a family member’s SUD, and these effects can last far into adulthood. For example, children who are exposed to a parent’s substance use may seek substances themselves to deal with the trauma they experienced as children.
Family Roles in SUD
When a family has someone struggling with SUD, members tend to take on different roles, whether they realize it or not. These roles are often not conducive to helping their loved one who has SUD, though they may believe so at the time.
Researchers and clinicians have agreed that these archetypes often naturally occur in families dealing with SUD.
This is the person with SUD who is the source of most of the conflict. They behave in the manner they feel benefits them, and they may not even realize how their behaviors affect those around them.
The caretaker tends to make up excuses for the person with SUD, and they do everything they can to make the family as happy as possible. Caretakers often enable the user, and they make unnecessary sacrifices to keep everyone satisfied.
Heroes are similar to caretakers, except they don’t enable the user. They do everything secretively to keep the family stable. However, while they may appear heroic on the outside, they’re secretly struggling inside.
Simply put, scapegoats are the exact opposite of heroes. They’re hostile toward the rest of their family, and they try to draw attention toward themselves through bad behaviors. Even if the attention is diverted from the user, the negative cycle keeps going.
Mascots try to use humorous or even silly behavior to make the rest of the family feel better about the situation. Even if they’re aware of the negative effects of the SUD, mascots use humor to prevent others from facing the reality of the situation.
The Lost Child
Finally, the lost child is the quiet and secluded one in the family. They see all the conflicts unfold while feeling invisible. Lost children tend to be the actual minor children of the person with SUD, or the middle child in adult families, as the older siblings tend to take other roles.
Is My Loved One Struggling with SUD?
Unfortunately, some individuals with SUD suffer in silence. They may be too afraid to speak up about their problems, or they may not believe they have any problems in the first place. When one person in the family suffers, everyone suffers. Parents who have a child with SUD may blame themselves. Siblings may feel less loved and seen by their parents because their parents are too focused on healing the sibling with SUD.
Spouses of a person with SUD may feel the need to explain or excuse the person’s actions to smooth things over with the person’s employer, friends, and family and thus take on all the additional stress on their own.
Symptoms of SUD
If you’re unsure if a loved one is struggling with SUD, there are some physical and emotional signs to be aware of that could indicate this disorder. While these symptoms don’t automatically mean your loved one has SUD, they are signs that could mean they’re struggling.
SUD can result in several different emotional and psychological effects, including:
- Mood swings and angry outbursts
- Depression and anxiety
- Social isolation
- Memory loss
- And more
Along with emotional and psychological changes, SUD can result in the following physical symptoms:
- Weight gain or loss
- Pale skin
- Bloodshot eyes
- Drowsiness at unusual times of the day
- Poor hygiene
- Bloating or puffiness
- And more
These symptoms are more noticeable, and if you know your loved one is using substances, they may have a substance use disorder that needs to be addressed.
Finally, other behavioral changes can occur when someone has SUD. For example, they may neglect attending school or work, or their performance in either may be sharply declining. They may lose interest in the hobbies and tasks they once enjoyed. Perhaps most significantly, individuals often begin lying, acting secretive, or leaving home unexpectedly without an indication of their destination. These changes affect the entire family, and it’s crucial to suggest your loved one seek help.
How Can I Help My Loved One with SUD?
You may understand how addiction impacts the family, yet you have a loved one who still turns to substances to manage their daily life. Fortunately, there’s always hope. There are several strategies and resources out there that can help your loved one manage their disorder and repair your relationships. I’ve seen families struggle due to SUD, but I’ve also helped families not only repair but strengthen their bonds with each other.
However, it’s important to know that you cannot singlehandedly help your loved one cure their SUD. SUD is a treatable disease, but the individual must be willing to recognize that a problem exists and motivated to make a change with the help of professional SUD resources. There are plenty of services available that are designed to treat SUD and heal both the individual and their family.
The most important action you can take as a loved one is to encourage the person with SUD to seek help. It can be incredibly difficult to take that first step to get help. In fact, I remember how difficult it was for me to admit I needed help, but it was the most crucial step I’ve taken on my path toward recovery. Of course, while it’s important to establish boundaries so your loved one knows what behavior you will and will not tolerate, you don’t want to be forceful or controlling. Be encouraging, and support your loved one as they seek help..
Organize an Intervention
If your loved one seems unwilling to recognize that there’s a problem that affects the entire family, you can consider organizing an intervention so the family can voice their concerns over their loved one’s SUD. Interventions aren’t designed to berate or belittle the loved one with SUD; these are designed so families can explain how their SUD affects them and their relationships, express boundaries, and encourage the person to get help. Interventions can be implemented in order for the person with SUD to truly see how their behaviors affect those they love.
Use Family Support Resources
One of the most encouraging aspects of recovery today is that there are several options available that can help families heal. Family counseling may be your best option if you want to bring the entire family together to work through this situation. Family counseling is focused on healing, not shifting blame or causing more drama. Whether the person with SUD wants to participate or not, family support resources can help family members find peace and healing regardless of the person’s actions moving forward.
Hope for Families Impacted By Addiction
Accessing intervention and family support services can help you restore your familial relationships and treat everyone affected by SUD. Your life doesn’t need to be dictated by substance use, whether it’s your own or a family member’s.