10 Effects of Substance Abuse on Family Members

Alcohol and drug abuse affect not only the life of the person with the substance use disorder (SUD) but also the lives of family members. Addictions often cause interpersonal problems for all family members. Here, we’ll take a closer look at how substance abuse affects the family.

Early theories blamed family members for the addiction problem in the family. However, later theories confirmed the stress caused by being in a relationship with an individual with an addictive disorder. There was little recognition of the caregiver role of family members. Now, there is widespread knowledge that the negative results of drug abuse have an impact on the families of drug abusers in particular.

Family members of individuals with addiction have an increased prevalence of illness and domestic violence. In addition, they tend to have a deterioration in psychological and interpersonal activities which include problems with:

  • social functioning,
  • the relationship with the addicted person,
  • stress, and
  • behavior problems in children.

Family members also have to deal with legal and financial problems. The combination of problems can have a widespread impact. For instance: the families of drug users have health care usage rates that can possibly be four times higher than that of average families. 

How Substance Abuse Affects the Familyhow substance abuse affects the family

  1. Jealousy

People with SUD often have jealousy issues. You may grow jealous of your friends, partner, other family members, and other people in your life.

  1. Conflict with Partner

You may have arguments, get or give the “silent treatment,” and grow apart because you put your addiction first.

  1. Conflict with Children

Addicts may argue frequently with their children. They may come to disregard your authority or become afraid of you.

  1. Money Conflicts

You may be struggling economically because of losing your job, needing time off from work, or making bad financial choices. You might also be pouring all of your money into your addiction.

  1. Emotional Trauma

Addicts often create emotional hardships for their partner and children by yelling, belittling, insulting, or manipulating.

  1. Violence

You may become violent, or your family members may become violent with you. This includes slapping, hitting, smashing, and throwing objects.

  1. Cheating

Substance abusers often become distant from their partners and tend to find satisfaction through pornography, internet sex, prostitution, or find someone else who they believe “understands” them.

  1. Separation

Behavior affected by addiction may cause separation, divorce, and isolation from other family members, especially children. This happens because they are taken from you or because they don’t want to be around you.

  1. Patterns

The example that an addict sets will have an influence on their partner, children, and other family members. There is a high risk that your children will become addicted to drugs or alcohol.

  1. 10. Health Risks

Drinking while pregnant can cause damage to a baby’s brain, known as fetal alcohol syndrome. Smoking can cause health problems from secondhand smoke, including lung cancer. And being under the influence of drugs and alcohol can impair your judgment and lead to neglect and harm to family members.

Effects of Substance Abuse on Family Structures

Family structures in the U.S. have become more complicated. Therefore, substance abuse affects the family structures in different ways. The following family structures are from the “Substance Abuse Treatment and Family Therapy” guide developed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA):

An addict lives alone or with a partner:

Both of you need help. When one partner has an addiction and the other doesn’t, there will be issues of co-dependence. According to Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA), codependency is described as being overly concerned with the problems of the addicted partner and not taking care of their own wants and needs. The partner who is not using substances often takes on the provider role. Psychological consequences can include denial or protection of the person with the problem, anger, stress, anxiety, and isolation.

An addict who lives with a spouse or partner and young children:

The problems of parents will affect their children. Often, one parent has an addiction and the other one protects the children. They may take on more of the parental responsibilities. Obviously, when both parents have addictions, the effect on the children is even worse. Similar to victims of mistreatment who believe the abuse is their fault, children of people with substance abuse problems feel guilty and responsible for the parent’s problem. Studies show that a parent’s substance problem can have cognitive, behavioral, and emotional consequences for children. Furthermore, your addiction is likely to pass down to your children.

An addict with a step-family:

The use of substances can interfere with your step-family’s settling in and stability. In ordinary situations, stepfamilies have special challenges. Children frequently live in two separate households where different boundaries and uncertain roles can be confusing. When there is substance use in the family, there can be unique issues such as parental authority disputes, sexual abuse, and problems with self-esteem for the children.

An addict who is older and has grown children:

When an adult over the age of 65 abuses a substance it is usually alcohol and/or prescription medicine. Older adults frequently live with or are supported by their adult children because of financial issues. When an older adult has an addiction problem, it can affect the whole household. Your family resources may need to be used to treat an older adult’s addiction.  Also, the issue of elder mistreatment may arise.

A younger addict who lives with their family:

The needs and interests of siblings or other family members can be ignored because of crises caused by the addicted member. Alcohol and other psychoactive drugs play a large part in violent death for teenagers. These include homicide, suicide, traffic accidents, and other serious injuries. Also, if you have a parent who has a SUD, you are at risk of physical and emotional conflicts.

Common Signs of Substance Abuse in Families

However, there are several typical patterns of interaction that are likely to be present in a family that includes parents or children who abuse alcohol or drugs:


Any communication among family members is negative. This takes the form of complaints, criticism, and other terms of displeasure. The mood in the household is downbeat and positive behavior is ignored. In these families, the only way to get attention or liven things up is to create a crisis. All the negativity may help reinforce substance abuse.

Inconsistent Parenting

Rule setting is unpredictable, enforcement of rules is inconsistent, and the family structure is inadequate. Children become confused because they can’t figure out the lines between right and wrong. This results in bad behavior in the hope of getting their parents to set clearly defined limits. Children can’t predict their parent’s responses to their behavior without known limits. Such inconsistencies tend to be present whether the person abusing substances is a parent or a child and they cause a sense of confusion in the children.


In the face of obvious warning signs, the parental position is: 

  • “What drug/alcohol problem? We don’t see any problem.” 

Or after legal officials become involved:

  • “You’re wrong! My child/spouse does not have a problem!”

Miscarried Expressions of Anger

Parents or children who resent their emotionally broken home and are afraid to show their rage may use substance abuse to manage their repressed anger.

Self-MedicationHow Substance Abuse Affects the Family

Sometimes, a parent or child will use drugs or alcohol to deal with unbearable thoughts or feelings, such as severe anxiety or depression.

Unrealistic Parental Expectations

When expectations of parents are unrealistic, children can excuse themselves from future expectations by basically saying “You can’t expect anything from me. I’m just a pothead/speeder/junkie.” On the other hand, they may work obsessively to overachieve while feeling that whatever they do is not good enough. They may joke and clown or withdraw to divert the pain. 

If expectations are too low, and kids are told throughout childhood that they will fail, they tend to mold their behavior to fit their parents’ expectations. Unless meaningful adults step in with healthy, positive, and supportive messages, they will take the path of least resistance.

Treatment for Families Affected By SUD

There is the acknowledgement of how substance abuse affects the family. Parents and siblings are not only worried about their loved one, but they are also struggling to deal with the effects of the disease. Still, they have had limited options for help or involvement in treatment. This is regrettable because research has found that they can not only benefit from receiving help, but they can influence the addicted family member.

Family Therapy

Family therapy is a type of psychological counseling that helps family members improve communication skills and resolve conflicts. This therapy is typically short-term and includes all the family members or just the ones that want to take part. The goal is to bring clarity to all the relationships in the family and encourage repair and closeness, once again, if the members choose to. 

Using the framework of addiction, a therapist will explore how substance abuse affects the family. New skills can then be established with the help of the therapist who coaches the family members in practicing them.

Four Parts of Family Therapy

The four most important parts of family therapy are:

  1. Family Engagement: Improving family members’ involvement. Family engagement Interventions typically occur during the first phase of treatment.
  2. Relational Reframing: Relational reframing is composed of interventions designed to flow from individual ways of defining a problem and forming solutions toward understanding focused on relationships.
  3. Family Behavior Change: The idea here is to shift the behavior of the members by teaching new skills and promoting individual changes in behavior.
  4. Family Restructuring: The goal of family restructuring is to change the way the family system is directed, change basic beliefs and family rules.

Addiction Treatment for Your Family Member

Are you in a family that is struggling with an addiction? Maybe you are the family member with the addiction. At Addiction Intervention, we have answers to your questions and solutions for your problems. We are more than a professional intervention provider. We can direct you to several levels of care, from Contact us now. Get started on healing your family.

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