Family is important because it nurtures and supports each member within it while giving each member important family roles to take on as they grow into their own identity. It emphasizes the importance of having people to celebrate life’s joys with and having people to lean on during challenging times. Family may be the most important influence on each family member’s life, which is not something to take lightly.

Addiction Affects the Entire Family

When addiction takes its toll on a family member, there is no question that the entire family dynamic is affected. With both immediate and extended family considered, addiction impacts each member in its own unique way. It is important to understand that addiction is a family illness.

How Addiction Affects Each Family Member

Addiction is a complex disease, and it has a way of motivating each family member to question their roles, not only in the family but also in society. Substance use can alter a family dynamic in intense ways, where often, young children grow up quickly and take care of other family members. Some general examples of ways that family members become impacted by substance use disorders (SUDs) or addiction include:

  • Having unmet developmental needs
  • Impaired attachment
  • Financial hardship
  • Legal problems
  • Emotional distress
  • Physical, mental, or emotional abuse

Other specific experiences of how family members may be affected include:

  • Parent-child relationship: If a parent struggles with addiction, a young child may feel ignored or depressed. They may feel as if the disconnect between them and their parent is their fault, especially if they are too young to understand the true nature of addiction. In turn, the struggling parent doubts their ability to be a good and involved parent for their child.
  • Siblings: If an older sibling struggles with addiction, younger siblings may start to feel detached from their family. The sibling struggling may isolate themselves from family, causing parents to blame themselves for their child’s detachment, among many other things.

It is important to note that addiction can strain relationships no matter which member struggles. Just as family members respond to grief, conflict, or anger in different ways, every member will respond to learning about their loved one’s addiction in different ways.

Learning to Take Action

Often, family members do not know the best route of action for their loved one when addiction becomes the topic of conversation. Sometimes members step back and choose not to be involved, while others may try to encourage treatment or recovery. These responses vary based on age, maturity, relationship with a family member, and general knowledge regarding substance use and addiction recovery.

Coping Responses Family Members May Experience

When a family member becomes affected by addiction, other family members will likely develop unique coping responses, such as.

  • Disappointment: The first coping response that family members may experience is a sense of disappointment. Such disappointment may develop from a lack of understanding about addiction, especially through negative stigmas and stereotypes of those that struggle with mental illness or substance use. Disappointment may also develop because a family member has not experienced addiction themselves, making it even more difficult for them to understand what the family member struggling with addiction is experiencing.
  • Distrust: Another coping response that family members may experience is a sense of distrust. It may develop from months or years of the family member keeping quiet about their struggles. It may also develop from repeated lies or manipulation from the family member struggling with addiction. This experience may make it difficult for family members to trust in their other interpersonal relationships.
  • Enabling: Another coping response might be enabling substance use or risky behavior for other family members. If a parent or sibling misuses drugs or alcohol, young children or other siblings may experience increased risks of drug use in the future. This occurs because children mirror their guardians as a form of social learning.

How to Break the Cycle of Addiction in the Family

Perpetuating the cycle of addiction is never easy, especially if several relatives have experienced addiction. It is important to break the cycle, especially so that family members do not fall into the cycle themselves.

It is essential to understand the protective factors that work against perpetuating the cycle of addiction in the family. Protective factors include, but are not limited to:

  • Strong and positive family bonds
  • Parental involvement and monitoring of children’s activities and friendships
  • Clear boundaries enforced within the family
  • Becoming educated about the risks involved with substance use as well as educated about addiction and recovery
  • Seeking treatment and support early on
  • Understanding the signs of manipulation or secretive behavior

Family plays a critical role in the development of its members. When one family member begins to struggle with addiction, all other family members will become impacted at one point or another. Parents may start to take the blame for the addiction of their child, or young siblings might feel forgotten or invisible. It is important to recognize that each family member will take on different coping mechanisms as they work to understand the effects of addiction on the entire family. Bella Monte Recovery Center acknowledges that addiction never affects one person. Family, friends, and loved ones all respond differently to a person struggling with addiction. It is essential to encourage your family member to receive treatment in a facility that offers compassionate and nonjudgemental care. Your family member can recover, and so can the entire family. For more information about our recovery programs, call Bella Monte today at (800) 974-1938.