How Substance Abuse Affects Your Family
Learning the effects different types of addiction have on the family unit
The precise impact of substance abuse on families can be as diverse as the different family structures, and the unique individuals within them; however, there are always consequences and lasting effects when one or more family members are abusing drugs or alcohol.
The main effect of substance abuse in the family is related to a diversion of energy, away from the emotional support and connection that families ideally provide to one another. When this flow of love and good energy throughout the family is disrupted, everyone feels the impact. The specifics of how this affects the family can vary depending upon who is abusing the substance.
When One Parent is Abusing
When one of the parents in a family with children has a substance abuse problem, the other parent may have tendencies toward either being an “enabler” or codependent personality type; however, another possibility is that the non-abusing parent is disengaged from their partner, and perhaps from the family in general. There are numerous possible reasons for this, including being busy at work (being a workaholic), having an affair, or diverting themselves with other types of addictions such as gambling, or shopping. In these cases, there can be a sense of denial about what is going on, which delays the healing process and keeps the kids vulnerable and without adequate support, as they grow and develop.
If the non-abusing partner is engaged and taking steps to try to help the addicted partner, healing can happen more rapidly. If the substance abusing partner resists receiving help, this will be a source of tremendous stress in the family.
If Both Parents Are Abusing
The consequences of both parents abusing a substance are doubly devastating to the children. In these cases, children cannot readily turn to either parent for reliable emotional support and parenting. The precise way it effects them depends upon the personality of the child. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation advises that more introverted child may turn more deeply inward and find ways not to rely on anyone. Others will reach out and find support with friends, teachers, or clergy. Children who don’t find support may begin to act out by abusing substances themselves, or engaging in other illegal activities such as shoplifting or vandalism. Introverts who pull inward, develop trust issues or become loners and may be at risk of being bullied.
Extroverted children may begin to act out in more overt and aggressive ways. They might become the class clown or the class bully, known for disrupting the classroom setting and rebelling in any way they can. They may start to dress differently, change their personal style to be more “dark,” and cut class. They will likely find other children who are also acting out, to have as friends, and reinforce these behaviors in one another. These children are often not receiving enough positive attention at home, and they come to learn that acting negatively will get them the attention they crave. To these children, receiving negative attention is better than none at all.
“Positive” Responses and Coping Mechanisms
It’s also possible that some children of parents who are abusing substances will not go down a dark or delinquent path, but will instead develop stronger coping mechanisms than the average child, at least in the short term. They may become the caretakers of the family, growing up faster than children should have to, and taking on a parental role to their own parents and younger children.
Some children will choose to go take the opposite track of their parents early on and become high achievers in school, excelling in academics, athletics and/or extracurricular activities (often called the “hero” route). Some will abstain entirely and never drink or do drugs. These positive responses to substance abuse in the family are more constructive than negative responses, but they’re still at least partially the result of coping with emotional stress.
Healing for the Entire Family
Substance abuse affects the whole family. Self-sufficient children may develop trust issues and a “lone wolf” approach to life, never really allowing people to get too close. Their fierce independence served them well in childhood, but they can have intimacy issues when it comes time to seek out a life partner and start their own family. In cases of substance abuse in the family, the emotional wounds and lapses in support and love in the family unit will need to be addressed.
If someone in your family is dealing with substance abuse, you don’t have to go it alone. Malibu Beach Recovery Center takes a holistic approach to assist everyone in the family to get on the road to healing. If a member of your family is suffering from substance addiction, give us a call to see how we can help.