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Addiction Affects More Than the Abuser: How Addiction Affects Families

Addiction Affects More Than the Abuser: How Addiction Affects Families

Many people who abuse drugs or alcohol mistakenly believe that they are only hurting themselves.  They either ignore the truth or simply don’t care who they hurt.  To make the situation worse, most stories and articles about substance abuse tend to focus mainly on the user and how their lives are affected.  With this limited point of view, the true extent of substance abuse often goes unnoticed by most people.  

What do we mean by “the true extent of substance abuse?”  It means that substance abuse and addiction affect more than the abuser.  When a loved one has a substance use disorder, it can have an emotional, financial, and even physical effect on the entire family.

The number of ways addiction affects the person’s family is shocking in some cases.  To fully understand the impact of addiction on family members, take a look at the following examples.

Emotional Effects of Addiction on Families 

Family members of an addicted person are often subjected to deliberate or unintentional emotional or physical pain.  When this happens, what was once a peaceful, loving home is suddenly in chaos.  Over time, conflict becomes the norm.  Everyone is constantly on edge wondering when the next blow-up will happen.  

It’s not unusual for drug abusers to erupt into rage unexpectedly when under the influence of their substance of choice.  This unpredictable behavior keeps family members always on guard, careful of what they say or do to avoid triggering an outburst.  The constant stress takes a toll and can cause sleepless nights, poor appetite, depression, and unhealthy coping mechanisms.  

Families of substance abusers are conflicted.  On one hand, they love the individual and want to help them.  But, on the other hand, it’s hard to continue being supportive and loving when nothing changes.  They know what they should do to protect the family, but it’s hard when the addicted person is a family member.

Addiction Turns Family Members into Enablers

What is an enabler?  Many family members are unaware that they are an enabler.  The definition of an enabler is:

“ A person who encourages or enables negative or self-destructive behavior in another. Being an enabler to an addict does more harm than good.”

In most cases, the enabler is the spouse of the addicted person.  But, children can also play a role in being a caretaker or enabler.  Typically, the family members feel that they must take care of their addicted loved one.  Spouses may try to keep the loved one out of trouble by lying for them.  The spouse also takes over daily responsibilities for their loved one.  An enabler will even make excuses for the loved one’s absence from work or social gatherings.  

When the substance abuser realizes that a family member is “helping” them, they use this to their advantage.  Now that they have no repercussions to deal with, they are free to do as they wish.  Staying high all day is often their first choice.  

How do you know if you’re enabling a loved one’s substance use?  Here are some of the most common signs to look for:

  • Providing money that could otherwise be used for family needs.
  • Ignoring or in denial about the severity of the addiction.
  • Making excuses or rationalizing the loved one’s behavior.
  • Lying on their behalf to shield them from consequences.
  • Continuing to provide shelter, emotional support, and catering to their needs.
  • Doing nothing to resolve the situation such as an holding an intervention. 

In essence, an addicted person trains their family members to continue enabling their behavior.  For instance, they use four different emotional manipulation techniques such as:

  1. Fear-based.  The addicted person will make threats if confronted about their substance abuse.  
  2. Guilt-based.  Some substance abusers blame their problems on their loved ones.  By placing blame on them, the addicted person avoids personal responsibility.
  3. Hope-based.  The person makes promises to stop their substance abuse.  So, family members are afraid that if they withdraw their support. 
  4. Victim-based.  Similar to guilt-based, this victim-based approach shifts the blame from the substance abuser to anyone or anything other than themselves. They always have an excuse and someone else to blame.

Enabling often goes hand in hand with codependency.  Codependent relationships involve one person needing the other to satisfy their needs.  

Impact of Addiction on Children

It’s shocking to realize this, but as many as one in five children grow up in a home with a parent who abuses drugs or alcohol.  According to child psychologists, these children are more likely to develop substance use disorders in their adulthood.

Children of substance abusers are also more likely to suffer from neglect or abuse.  They often witness violent behavior due to a parent’s substance use.   As a result of arguments between the parents, the child will suffer emotional distress that can manifest in various ways.  

These children may become emotionally and mentally unstable.  Also, they often feel guilt and self-blame or feel unworthy of love.  These emotions can continue into adulthood, affecting all aspects of their lives.  

Many teenagers of parents with substance abuse problems run away from home.  Some may end up in situations that make them vulnerable to sexual exploitation, drug use, and living on the streets.  Their hopes and dreams for a prosperous future are destroyed and, sadly, a loved one is the cause of this unhappy ending.  

Addiction Treatment at Cycles of Change Recovery 

Don’t let addiction tear apart your happy family or ruin your health.  At Cycles of Change Recovery, you can get the professional help you need to overcome addiction for your sake and for the sake of your loving family.  

Among our many program options, we offer Family Therapy which will help your family overcome dysfunctional patterns of behavior and learn how to be more supportive.

Contact us at our Palmdale, CA facility today to learn more about how our program can help you find a better path in life.  



Not sure if our treatment program is right for you or your loved one?

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