How Drug Addiction Affects the Family
Medically Reviewed by:
Dr. Patricia Sullivan, MD MPH
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 19.7 million Americans suffered from substance abuse disorder in 2017. That’s 38% of adults in the country who struggle with drug abuse. Drug abuse and addiction cost more than $740 billion annually in healthcare expenses, lost productivity, and crime. However, the ways drug addiction affects the family are incalculable and heartbreaking. Witnessing a family member in the clutches of addiction live with emotional, financial, legal, and medical trauma.
The physical, psychological, and emotional effects of drug abuse on families are staggering, even years after. Children and teens are especially vulnerable to the hazardous conditions of living with an addicted family member. While help for your addicted loved one may seem unattainable, we are here to assist you. Rehab, intervention, and therapy are invaluable tools – call today at 1-888-906-0952. Learn how drug addiction affects the family and get help for yourself and your family.
At least 130 people die every day from opioid abuse in the United States. Don’t let yourself be one.
Drug Addiction Affects the Whole Family
It is estimated that more than 8 million children under the age of 18 live with at least one adult who has a substance use disorder (SUD). The way a parent’s drug addiction affects the family is felt by parents and children alike. “Addiction is a family disease” is a common saying in the mental health and substance abuse field.
This negative impact often begins in pregnancy. Taking drugs while pregnant puts the mother’s health at risk (heart attack, stroke, respiratory failure) and affects her unborn child. Risks include congenital disabilities, premature birth, underweight babies, and stillborn births.
Other negative impacts of parental SUDs include:
- Loss of Trust: Addicts lack dependability, so they often break promises made to children or spouses.
- Increased Stress: When an addict shirks all responsibilities, the enabling partner must pick up the slack.
- Financial Problems: Addicts often purchase expensive drugs using money the household needs.
- Physical and Emotional Abuse: Simple disagreements can easily get out of hand with an addict.
The effects of drug abuse on a family vary with the type of drug the addict uses. Using drugs like marijuana or heroin can cause parents to become forgetful or neglectful. Meth is especially dangerous, especially if the parent is involved in its production. Opioids can cause a parent to nod out, leaving their child unattended. Stimulant use, like cocaine, has an appetite-suppressing effect, which might lead to a parent forgetting to feed their kids. Cocaine also magnifies the intensity of emotional reactions so that a crying child might send a parent into a rage. Most frightening, crack cocaine use can expose a child to the dangers of physical or sexual abuse. In general, trying to find or buy drugs can put kids into potentially dangerous circumstances.
The Impact of Addiction on Kids
The children growing up in a home with an addicted parent seem to have the cards stacked against them. This starts before their birth due to fetal drug syndrome. The negative effects of drug use by the mother may begin there. However, the effects of parental drug use neither end there nor are the mother’s fault alone. The ways drug addiction affects the family, by either parent, contribute to children’s poor well-being.
- Will struggle with emotional or behavioral problems, such as anxiety, depression, and more.
- Will suffer from “failure to thrive.”
- Children are three times more likely to suffer neglect, physical or sexual abuse, emotional or physical neglect, or feel unsafe.
- Children are 50% more likely to be arrested as juveniles; 40% more likely to commit a violent crime.
- Children are more likely to live in a lower socioeconomic status.
- Children are more likely to struggle with school difficulties: lower grade point averages, increased grade retention, failure to pursue secondary education.
- Increased conduct problems and aggressive behavior; hurts themselves or others; suffers from feelings of “unworthiness.”
- Mood disorders nearly double by young adulthood.
- Have nightmares or other sleeping problems.
- Children in these homes tend to self-parent and try to take care of other siblings.
- Blame themselves for the problems or at home; feel bad about themselves.
- Have an increased risk of developing their own substance abuse disorder.
This list of negative effects of addiction on the family is by no means exhaustive, but it is daunting. Additionally, one lamentable result may include a social worker removing the child from the SUD home and placing him or her in foster care. While this may not be the ideal solution, the child’s health, security, and well-being should always come first.
How Substance Use Disorders Impact the Family
Two theories show the importance of understanding how SUDs impact the family: Attachment Theory and Family Systems Theory.
- The negative impacts of parental SUDs on the family include disruption of attachment, rituals, roles, routines, communication, social life, and finances. Family environments with a parent struggling with substance abuse disorder are characterized by secrecy, loss, conflict, violence or abuse, emotional chaos, and fear. When a child is born, its primary relationship with its parents is how it learns to communicate and relate to the home environment.
- A secure attachment is formed when the primary caregiver responds to the child in a nurturing way. Although, if that caregiver is unresponsive or inconsistent, an insecure attachment is formed. This situation can result in problems such as anxiety, depression, and a failure to thrive. One reason an insecure attachment may form is due to a parent having a SUD.
- This theory helps individuals resolve their problems in the context of their family and addictions, where many issues are likely to begin. Family members work together to understand better how their individual actions affect each other. An important premise is that what happens to one member happens to all.
- How does that work for addiction and the family? The family works together to resolve a problem that affects one member. Each family member has the opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings about how the person’s addiction affects them. With this process, addicts and their families work together to resolve issues. It also helps with other effects of addiction on a family. A family systems therapist will help with the success of this process.
Gaining an understanding of what it’s like to live with an addicted family member is crucial.
Nevermore critical to easing a sufferer’s agony is the presence of someone saying “I know how you feel. Can I help?“
When a Parent Goes to Rehab
While treatment is always available, the recovery process presents unique concerns and difficulties. The ways that drug addiction affects the family is felt by all members, but especially by children. Confused by the addiction, suffering from fear, and often living in unsanitary or unsafe conditions, children are the silent victims of how drug addiction affects the family.
It is vital that any addict, whether a parent or not, gets immediate drug addiction treatment. For a parent, the extra burden of what to do with their children adds to the stress and complications of finding that desperately needed treatment. Making arrangements for children is a big reason why people delay going to treatment. If the addict is a single parent, the challenge intensifies. An additional fear may be losing a child to foster care – it can be difficult to get custody back. That situation is detrimental for the newly clean parent and traumatizing for the child.
Some child care options to consider when a parent enters treatment:
- The other parent: The obvious first, but not necessarily the best, choice. Many people may fear leaving a child with the other parent due to addiction, work commitments, or lack of sufficient parenting skills.
- Friends or family: Another seemingly easy solution. However, issues may arise, including putting additional stress on the caregiving family and their jobs, finances, and other potential issues.
- Traditional daycare: While this works well for parents in outpatient rehab, this option can be expensive.
- Rehab centers: Many centers do provide daycare to help struggling parents. This is an ideal option for many reasons, not the least, which means the parent may be nearby while the child is in daycare.
Let your family begin the process of healing from addiction
Treatment is available to end addiction and begin the process of healing the family unit. Living with an addicted family member is a painful, miserable experience. Accredited treatment facilities are staffed by certified substance abuse specialists, including clinical and medical staff. Individualized, customized treatment plans are created to fulfill clients’ physical, mental, social, medical, vocational, familial, and emotional needs. The plans also offer a healthy, compassionate atmosphere for addicts who want to begin recovering from addiction.
Treatment options for drug addiction include behavioral counseling, medication, and medical devices. These devices are used to treat withdrawal symptoms and treatment for co-occurring mental health issues. The first step of any recovery plan is detox, followed immediately by rehabilitation. Inpatient or outpatient rehab is a decision the addict and the family must make. During treatment, clients learn how to cope with the physical and psychological results of dependency. They learn to acknowledge the emotions, locations, and the people who encouraged their addictions.
Call Us Today
Contrary to common belief, drug abuse is an illness, not a choice, and should be treated as one. Addiction treatment can help with the effects of drug abuse on the family and the effects on the user. Treatment helps a parent stop using drugs, stay drug-free, and be productive at home with the family, work, and society. Although this process could be lengthy and difficult, success is achievable.
Our recovery specialists offer various facets of recovery, targeting assessment, medical care, counseling, education, life skills coaching, drug and alcohol testing. Along with relapse prevention training, introduction to self-help and support meetings, treatment of mental disorders, and emotional issues. Services include family education and counseling, as well as follow-up care. Please call today to discuss your addiction options and get healthy for yourself and your family.