Addiction is a complex and widespread issue that affects not only the sufferer but also has a significant impact on the lives of their friends and family. The World Drug Report by UNODC estimated that in 2016, 275 million people worldwide experienced an addiction to a substance, be it drugs or alcohol . Apart from this, various behavioral addictions like gambling, internet addiction or pornography addiction are also rising in prevalence. As addiction damages the lives of those within its shackles, it also extends its harmful reach into the lives of their loved ones. It is thus crucial to understand the impact that addiction has on family dynamics and relationships.
Increased levels of stress and emotional strain
The emotional turmoil that accompanies addiction can extend to the family members of the addict. Family members may experience stress, anxiety, depression or feelings of helplessness as they watch their loved one struggle with addiction . The uncertainty of the future and fear for the addict’s well-being become constant companions, while family members may also struggle with guilt or blame themselves for the addiction. Regrettably, prolonged stress and emotional strain can lead to a disintegration of the family structure and cause irreparable damage to relationships.
Addiction frequently results in financial strain on the family. Money is often spent on sustaining the addiction, compelling the family to compromise and reallocate funds meant for food, housing, education or medical expenses . An additional financial burden arises if the addict is unable to maintain employment or if their impaired judgment leads to theft or financial mismanagement. This may lead to financial instability and increased tension within the family, as they struggle to make ends meet.
Strained relationships and communication
Addiction drastically alters an individual’s behavior, which in turn affects their interpersonal relationships. Communication breakdowns often happen due to increased levels of aggression, mood swings, or dishonesty in the addict . Trust between family members can be severely damaged as the addict tries to hide their addiction and its consequences. Moreover, family members may also develop unhealthy communication patterns, such as enabling or codependent behavior, exacerbating the strain of addiction within the family unit.
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Disruption of family roles
Family roles are often disrupted and realigned as a result of addiction. A spouse may assume additional responsibilities to compensate for the addict’s lack of involvement or unreliable behavior. In extreme cases, children may be forced to assume adult responsibilities, which impacts their social and emotional development . When the addiction persists, family roles and dynamics may become rigid or dysfunctional, which further disrupts the healthy functioning of the family unit.
Impact on children
The effect of addiction on children is especially significant. The National Association for Children of Alcoholics estimates that there are more than 2.6 million children of alcoholics in the UK , while in the United States, around 1 in 8 children live in a household with at least one parent who has a substance use disorder . Children of addicts are at a greater risk of experiencing emotional, physical and sexual abuse, as well as neglect and domestic violence . They are also more likely to develop mental health issues, poor academic performance and a higher likelihood of developing addiction themselves .
Addiction is an overwhelmingly destructive force that has far-reaching consequences for the family and relationships of the addict. It creates stress, emotional burden, financial strain, strained relationships and significantly impacts children. It is thus essential to address addiction not just as an individual struggle but also as a family issue that requires understanding, support, and professional help.
- United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (2017). World Drug Report 2017. Retrieved from https://www.unodc.org/wdr2017/
- Lander, L., Howsare, J., & Byrne, M. (2013). The impact of substance use disorders on families and children: From theory to practice. Social Work in Public Health, 28(0), 194-205
- Ray, G. (2007). Recognizing the Destructive Impact of Addiction on Families. Social Work Today, 7(5), 20
- National Association for Children of Alcoholics. (2018). Key Facts. Retrieved from https://nacoa.org.uk/policy-and-campaigns/key-facts/
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2017). 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/cbhsq-reports/NSDUHDetailedTabs2017/NSDUHDetailedTabs2017.htm#tab8-41B
- Families in the UK. (2018). Children living with parental drug or alcohol abuse. Retrieved from: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/wellbeing/articles/childrenlivingwithparentaldrugoralcoholabuse/2018-03-22