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Home Blog The impact of addiction on family and relationships

The impact of addiction on family and relationships

Posted by Mike Delaney
on 28 Feb 2023

What’s included?

  1. Introduction
  2. How alcohol and drug addiction affects families
  3. The roles family members play in addiction
  4. How to deal with addiction in the family
  5. How can Delamere help someone with depression

Seeing a loved one fall into alcohol or drug addiction can be a hugely painful experience. While you care deeply for the person affected, their behaviour can leave you feeling angry, helpless, guilty, frightened, lonely, exhausted and disappointed. Often the person suffering with addiction is blind to the destruction they’re causing, which can make accessing help extremely challenging.  

Addiction affects everyone. Partners, parents, children and siblings. The constant worry and stress over someone’s addictive behaviour can take its toll both mentally and physically on friends and family members. Tensions run high and conflict becomes the norm. Without appropriate treatment, addiction can destroy your home, work and family life. 

son and mother helping a father with his addiction problem

How alcohol and drug addiction affects families

Whether it’s financial struggles, neglect, marriage problems or physical abuse, the impact of addiction on families is far reaching. Nobody is immune. From vulnerable young children to emotionally invested partners, everyone’s basic needs can be left unmet. 

Neglect and attachment disorders

Parental substance abuse leaves children feeling scared and vulnerable. They may blame themselves and feel responsible for their parent’s addiction. In young children, this can lead to attachment disorder which manifests throughout life as an inability to connect with others and show affection. 

When drugs or alcohol become a parent’s priority, children are left to fend for themselves and may go unwashed or unfed. This also spills out into other areas of their life. They may not attend school or have any friends over to play. All essential elements of a happy childhood. 

Anxiety and stress 

Family members who are caring for someone with addiction are under enormous strain. The continuous exposure to highly stressful situations can leave them vulnerable to mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression. Frequent tense exchanges or challenging conversations keep the brain in a constant fight or flight mode which has a detrimental effect on mental and physical health. 

Financial difficulties 

Alcohol and drugs aren’t cheap. The cost of maintaining a habit can force someone to rack up debts, default on mortgage payments or even steal from the people they love. This in itself is stressful for the whole family. It impacts how much food, clothing and other essentials everyone can afford. People who enable substance abuse may fund alcohol or drugs for their loved ones, which in turn leaves them in a dire financial situation. 

Physical and emotional abuse 

Someone who has a substance use disorder is a ticking time bomb. Their erratic behaviour and irrational decisions mean constant disagreements with family members. With their priority fixed firmly on alcohol or drugs, the addicted person lays on the guilt trip and emotionally abuses those around them. Due to the effect of substances on the brain, they are more likely to have angry outbursts or even physically lash out at the ones they love. The only way to break the never-ending cycle of addiction is to get professional help. 

The roles family members play in addiction

The family system theory defines the family unit as a complex system of social interactions. As humans we have an inherent desire to maintain homeostasis, or balance. This means each family member plays a role to keep the whole system going. A person can’t be successfully treated without first understanding how the individual fits into their family dynamic. When someone in the family changes their behaviour, it affects all those around them. 

Playing the victim

The addicted person becomes so fixated on substances that they are willing to manipulate and lie to their family members to maintain their addiction. They will often make excuses for their behaviour, blame others and even fabricate health problems to avoid conflict. It is especially hard for a parent to cope with a child who has a substance use disorder as the natural instinct is to see them as the vulnerable party and want to help. 

Enabling and co-dependency

Often the people in the firing line of addiction are those who cohabit with the addicted person. While trying to help, they may inadvertently enable the behaviour. For instance, a child might clear up after their alcoholic father to protect their mother from his drinking. This scenario becomes even more destructive when both parties are co-dependent – a widow might need her alcoholic son to remain living in the family home, so she won’t be lonely. They may even enjoy drinking or taking drugs together, fuelling the addiction. 

The role of siblings

All families include a mix of personalities, abilities and attitudes. Within the family system, each member has their own role and responsibilities, all with different levels of involvement. This can make mediation confusing for the addicted person. While one person may try to micromanage the situation, another might be laughing it off. Younger siblings may also function as the scapegoat and end up taking the blame. Adopting a united front, regardless of whether you live with the person who needs support or not, will help to get a consistent message across. 

How to deal with addiction in the family

Do your research. Finding out how a certain substance effects someone physically, mentally and emotionally may help you to feel more empathy towards them. It will also help to scientifically explain their behaviour. Addiction is a disease, not a choice. It’s useful to approach the problem from a medical point-of-view so that you can see addiction as an illness that needs treating, rather than a personal vendetta.  

Being mindful of your own needs

During a flight’s safety briefing you are advised to help others before helping yourself. This is also true in the case of addiction. If you are fatigued, stressed and malnourished you aren’t in the best shape to help someone overcome their own challenges. It’s absolutely vital that you take care of yourself and prioritise your own well-being. 

Practising daily self-care

You may find yourself incessantly worrying about your family member’s addiction and putting their basic care needs, like eating and washing ahead of yours. Giving yourself regular breaks from the situation and prioritising sleep, nutrition, exercise, hobbies and passions will also combat some of the stress of dealing with destructive behaviour.

Reaching out, talking to others and arranging your own support 

It’s important that all members of the family receive counselling, not just the addicted person. This will give you the best chance of restoring broken relationships and finding a way forward together. You can opt for individual family therapy or attend sessions together to learn more about each other’s feelings. 

Being clear on your boundaries

People who are struggling with addiction become coercive and manipulative. This isn’t them speaking, it’s the brain tricking them into thinking they need alcohol or drugs at any cost. Set clear boundaries to protect yourself and them from harm. This might mean withdrawing funds or refusing to drive them to the shop to get more alcohol or drugs. 

Organising professional help

Encourage your loved one to access support by talking to them when they are sober. No matter how strained your relationship, it’s important to speak with compassion and without judgement. Explain how their addiction impacts the whole family and how a rehabilitation programme could benefit everyone involved.

How can Delamere help a family member’s addiction? 

Friends and family are a crucial part of any person’s recovery. If your loved one is still in denial about their alcohol or drug addiction, we can help you to stage a planned family intervention. This involves talking to your family member in a supportive setting under guidance from a trained psychologist. 

With their consent, we can begin a residential rehab programme. Once they are stable and settled into our environment our 24-hour medical team will organise a clinical detox to help them overcome the physical addiction to substances. 

When our guests are feeling stronger, we start to explore emotional triggers through group therapy, peer support and one-to-one psychotherapy. We use a range of therapeutic practices, from mindfulness to music therapy, to support their goals. 

For guests staying with us for 28 days or more, we actively encourage visits from friends and family. Visits provide an opportunity for you to spend time with your loved one during their stay as well as gaining helpful insight into addiction and recovery. We also have family Zoom conferences which happen around week three of your relative’s stay. 

Our Friends & Family Connection Day includes an interactive group workshop in which our therapists discuss what addiction is, how it affects friends and family and what resources are available to those affected by someone else’s struggles with addictive behaviour. All guests leave our care with a future-proof plan and 12 months aftercare to enable them to grow beyond addiction. 

If you are concerned about a loved one’s addiction, call us confidentially to speak to a member of the team today. Contact Delamere

About the author: Mike Delaney

Mike crafted our innovative and person centred approach to addiction treatment. Mike’s experience in the addiction treatment sector encompasses his work as a nurse, psychotherapist and Chief Executive.

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