Addiction can do terrible damage to the life of a substance abuser, but those effects tend to ripple out and impact the lives of the abuser’s family as well. The disruptive influence of drugs in domestic life can tear apart family bonds and lead to lasting emotional and behavioral problems. Even when addicts go into treatment, it’s important to understand that their families have their own needs that must be addressed. Each member of a family is just as much a victim of addiction as addicts themselves.
When a child becomes addicted, it can be a terrible blow to the parents’ self-worth, causing them to react in a number of self-destructive ways. They may turn to self-medication as a way of coping, or they might completely shut down and go into denial. Parents might fight and try to blame each other for being ineffective guardians. They may also accuse their other children of being responsible for the addict’s choices. As family members alienate or turn on each other, their domestic bonds can be strained to the breaking point, depriving them of the nurturing love that they need from each other to lead healthy lives (Drug and Alcohol Information and Support, “Impact on the family”).
When a parent becomes addicted, it can upset the natural structure of the family. With one authority figure unable to fulfill his or her duties, children may attempt to step up and act as a replacement authority figure. They may take on a new role, such as a “family hero” or a “mascot” that allows them to support the family (Sharon Wegscheider, “The Family”). However, by placing the needs of the family ahead of all other concerns, these children may be unable to fulfill their own needs. Beneath the surface, they may feel lonely, depressed and inadequate.
The ramifications of an addicted parent can last a child’s entire life. Young children typically become increasingly truant at school and fall behind in their studies. Truancy often gets worse as children age and start shouldering more parental responsibilities at home. The stress of substance abuse in the home can lead adolescents to experiment with drugs themselves as a means of escape. The legacy of addiction can follow these children into adulthood and cause perpetual difficulty with relationships, finances and drug abuse, leading to increased risks of joblessness, criminal activity and domestic abuse.
Ultimately, family members of addicts must learn that in order to help their loved ones, they must first help themselves. Only by getting themselves on a firm footing in their own lives can they have the stability and strength to help others. By the same token, when an addict goes into treatment, the family should also participate to ensure that both the addict and the family as a whole get the support and recovery they need. Treatments such as family therapy and multifamily group therapy can help everyone heal (National Center for Biotechnology Information, “Substance Abuse Treatment and Family Therapy”).
If you or someone in your family has become addicted, there are treatment options available to address the problem holistically. Call the Texas Substance Abuse Helpline to speak to a qualified addiction specialist and learn more.