The thinking around the causes and treatments for addictions continues to evolve. Part of that shift takes in how the disease affects the family and loved ones of a person with substance use disorder (SUD). Whether the person with SUD is a teenager with concerned parents or an adult whose partner or children are struggling to find them help, anyone that cares for someone dealing with drug or alcohol addiction is impacted.
The American Psychological Association (APA) finds that despite growing awareness of SUD’s effect on family members, too few options exist for these individuals to help their family members with treatment or find help for themselves. There is enormous potential for loved ones to help the person struggling with addiction, making this a missed opportunity. Research shows that family members can not only benefit themselves from assistance but that they also can play a role in long-term recovery for the person with SUD.
Addiction and Children
The children of someone with substance use disorder are perhaps the most vulnerable to the impact of addiction of all family members. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported that 1 in 8 children (8.7 million) aged 17 or younger live with at least one parent dealing with a SUD.
Multiple issues can arise for the children of parents with substance abuse disorder. These children have a higher risk of a lower socioeconomic status. They are also more likely to have problems in school and functioning in other social and family situations. This group shows higher rates of mental and behavioral disorders and a higher risk of developing a problem with drugs or alcohol than children of parents without an SUD. Finally, the risk of sexual or physical abuse for children with a parent with SUD is three times higher.
Addiction and Parents
Teenage use of alcohol and drugs can stem from several factors, such as a family history of substance use disorder, a history of traumatic events, or feelings of social rejection. Whatever the reason a teenager starts to abuse alcohol or drugs, the impact is significant. Addiction is dangerous for anyone, but for teenagers and young adults who have not finished growing, it can:
- Affect their brain development
- Lead to other, more risky behaviors, such as unprotected sex and dangerous driving
- Contribute to future health problems, like heart disease, high blood pressure, and sleep disorders when they are adults
Parents of teens with SUD most likely struggle with a breakdown of trust between themselves and their affected child. Teenagers misusing drugs and alcohol may withdraw from family members, act out, pick fights, steal to support their habit or even run away. Parents are not to blame for a child’s SUD, but it is their responsibility to seek treatment to help the teen and the entire family because addiction is a family disease.
To help reduce a teen’s risk of developing a SUD, parents can:
- Develop strong communication skills with their teen by listening with respect
- Encourage positive behavior through consistent, daily encouragement
- Set a good example by modeling positive behaviors and healthy habits
- Navigate emotional conflicts calmly
- Set reasonable limits and boundaries
- Know their child’s friends and be involved in their child’s life
Addiction and Adult Family Members
The spouses and partners of someone struggling with drugs or alcohol are also affected by addiction. Relationships are built on trust, and dishonesty is a common by-product of the disease. Repeated lies erode trust, leading to significant damage to the relationship. The emotional toll of this can cause the spouse or partner to become depressed or anxious.
Addiction often shifts roles within a family, making the non-addict a caregiver. The family member may find themselves enabling their loved one’s addiction because they have been made to feel guilty. Enabling drug or alcohol abuse of a loved one creates a vicious cycle for all involved. Examples of enabling behavior include:
- Caring for someone when they are sick from drug or alcohol use
- Calling in sick to work for them
- Handling the individual’s responsibilities for them
- Lying to others about the person’s behavior
There is also a financial toll that addiction can take on families. The person with SUD may neglect household expenses to cover their drug or alcohol use. They may also lose their jobs because of their addiction. Both possibilities can leave a family in financial turmoil with unpaid bills or increased debt.
Support for the Families
Many self-help groups exist to help the family members of those struggling with addiction. These groups offer a safe space for family members to vent, seek support, receive advice, and be reassured that they are not alone. Available options include Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, and SMART Recovery Family and Friends. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) groups hold open meetings where family members are welcome. Individual or group therapy is another option.
Bridges of Hope’s treatment philosophy is based on a comprehensive and integrated approach to addressing all issues related to substance use and mental health disorders. Utilizing therapeutically proven, evidence-based clinical practices, Bridges of Hope provides superior patient care in Indiana through its all-inclusive treatment services.