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How Substance Abuse Affects Families and How to Recover

One of the most difficult aspects of addiction and recovery is the ripple effect. From employment and personal relationships to the basics of everyday functioning, there’s no part of an individual’s life that addiction does not impact in some way.

If your loved one struggles with addiction, you may already have begun to notice how substance abuse affects your family. It’s natural to feel worried, frightened, even helpless—but know that recovery is possible, both for your loved one and for your family as a whole. It begins with understanding.

Understanding How Substance Abuse Affects Families

Much of the suffering addiction inflicts is deeply personal for the person who is addicted. In addition to myriad physical symptoms, addiction can alter how a person acts and even how they relate to others. Paid work may become difficult to find or to keep; sports and hobbies may be left by the wayside as more and more time and energy are poured into feeding the addiction.

But even the most personal effects of substance abuse don’t belong exclusively to the person addicted. Addiction affects everyone in the family in different ways.

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How Substance Abuse Affects Partners

It can be deeply disturbing to watch someone you love and have built a life with succumbing to something as painful as addiction. You may feel betrayed—that they would turn to drugs or alcohol for comfort or fulfillment or that they would let addiction interfere with their responsibilities in your family. You may feel lost, wondering where the person you used to know has gone and why this seemingly different person is standing in their place. You may feel angry at them for letting you down, overwhelmed by the pressure to compensate for their lack of contribution to your family, or frightened because you aren’t sure how to help—or if you even can. All of these feelings are natural and nothing to be ashamed of.

However, in order to begin healing, it’s important to remember that your significant other is likely feeling many of the same things you are, even if those feelings aren’t apparent to you. Many addicts struggle with self-directed anger and frustration, as well as fear—both of their addiction and of the thought of trying to live without it. Talking about both of your feelings without judgment may be one way to open the door to recovery.

Note that, in cases where a spouse becomes physically or emotionally abusive while addicted, understanding will go only so far. If you are in this situation, it is vital to seek professional help as soon as possible, not just for your loved one’s sake but for your own safety and wellness and that of other family members, too. Whatever your loved one may be experiencing does not justify abusive behavior, nor should you or your family have to suffer such abuse in silence. You can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline any time at: 1-800-799-7233.

How Substance Abuse Affects Parents

As a parent, it may be all too easy to blame yourself for your child’s addiction—even if they are well into adulthood and more than capable of making their own decisions. You may wonder where you went wrong, what you could have done differently to prevent this from happening to your beloved son or daughter.

Or, you may feel just the opposite—that your child has disappointed you, that in spite of everything you have done for them, they have still wound up in this predicament. You may think they are selfish for doing so or irresponsible, particularly if you find yourself having to support them while they slip deeper into their addiction.

But the truth is that addiction can happen to anyone, and playing the blame game only creates more barriers to healing. Forgiveness is a vital element of recovery; letting go of the past is the only way to move forward, both as individuals and as a family. It may not be easy, but it will be worth it.

How Substance Abuse Affects Children and Adult Children

Children look to their parents for guidance, comfort, and safety—things that can be a challenge to consistently provide even for parents not struggling with addiction. For those who are, however, the challenge can become all but insurmountable. And, of course, that parent-child relationship can continue even after children are grown, and a parent’s substance abuse can become a new kind of burden.

Children who are old enough to understand that their parent is struggling in some way, even if they don’t understand the nature of that struggle, may worry for their parent and for themselves and feel unsure about how to support someone who previously provided them with support. Even very young children can pick up on signs that something is amiss and may become nervous or irritable and act out in response. In cases where the parent becomes more absent, children may experience feelings of abandonment and, if the situation is prolonged, possibly develop an attachment disorder. In severe cases where absenteeism turns to neglect, the child’s health may be jeopardized if another parent or family member is not present or able to look after them. This is, likewise, true if the addicted parent becomes abusive; in addition to short-term health concerns, childhood trauma can have serious long-term implications for a child’s physical and mental health—including the possibility of the child struggling with their own substance abuse problem somewhere down the line.

For adult children facing the consequences of a parent’s substance abuse, the next steps may feel uncertain or even impossible—especially if remnants of the original parent-child power dynamic still remain. Just as enabling behavior can be a hard-to-break pattern when parents have children with substance abuse disorders, so too can adult children fall into enabling patterns that may significantly delay recovery progress for everyone involved.

Regardless of the specifics of the situation, a certain amount of trust will almost inevitably be lost when substance abuse interferes with a parent-child relationship. However, time, patience, and family therapy can all be instrumental in rebuilding trust, mending relationships.

In addition to all of the social, mental, and emotional effects a loved one’s substance abuse can have on a family, addiction also creates physical ripple effects that impact the whole family. The stress of the situation alone can cause a wide range of negative symptoms, including fatigue, headaches, and other body aches, changes in weight and appetite, insomnia or hypersomnia, and gastrointestinal distress. Stress can also dampen the immune system, which increases the likelihood of illness and infection. These symptoms, in turn, can interfere with an adult’s ability to work or a child’s ability to concentrate on schoolwork. Resulting drops in performance ratings or grades can further compound stress and its effects, creating a vicious cycle. Only by addressing a loved one’s addiction can families begin to heal and recover from these related issues.

Substance abuse is an insidious chronic illness, one which can infect entire families even in spite of an individual’s best efforts to protect the ones they love from its effects. However, there is always hope for recovery—both for your loved one and for the rest of your family.

Recovering from Addiction as a Family

While recovery is an individual journey in many ways, when it comes to families, it is also a collective goal—one which requires mutual support and effort to achieve. Luckily, just as your loved one has their family to help them through this, external support is also available, both for your loved one and for your family as a whole.

When searching for addiction treatment for your loved one, be sure to look for programming that includes family involvement. Research has proven, time and again, that family therapy plays an integral role in the healing processes of everyone involved. And with the guidance of trained clinicians, you will be able to effectively work through your loved one’s substance abuse and the effects it has had on your family.

Together, you will then learn coping methods and other important tools with which you will be able to build a new life together and continue to develop resilience to work through future challenges.

If you have experienced firsthand how substance abuse affects families, know that you are not alone. At New Choices Treatment Centers, our programming includes weekly family therapy that touches on everything from family dynamics and communication to creating a new, healthier way of life—together. To learn more, contact us via email or call us anytime at (726) 888-7003.