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How Addiction Impacts Entire Families, And Resources That Can Help

By Ali Pantony
If your loved one is battling addiction and it is affecting you, it's okay for you to seek help.

Loving someone who is battling addiction can take a toll on your emotional health. It's important to watch for the signs that your loved one's illness is affecting you and find ways to get help. 

Breakdown of trust

"Addiction and dishonesty often go hand-in-hand, so individuals with addiction problems often break the trust of friends and family," Clinical Psychologist and Owner of Cincinnati Center for DBT, Dr. Nikki Winchester, says. "Trust is often the foundation of relationships, so this can cause significant damage in the relationship".

Friends and family may experience a sense of loss or disappointment, as the addiction takes precedent over the relationship’s or family’s needs, according to The Treehouse Residential Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center. Family members may experience depression and anxiety, and the emotional toll is often very great on children of substance abusers.

Changes in family roles

Substance abuse can change a family dynamic or friendship dramatically. It often places family or friends in a role where they have to take care of the person battling an addiction. You may shift focus from your needs to theirs, often missing out on important milestones or activities to help them.

Enabling behaviors and co-dependency are also common. According to American Addiction Centers, this is when a family member or friend gives in to their loved one's addiction-related demands⁠—perhaps from guilt or coercion⁠—and enables them to continue their behavior. This creates an unhealthy cycle.

Examples of enabling include taking care of a person when they are sick from drug or alcohol use, calling in sick to work for them, taking over their responsibilities or lying on their behalf to family and friends about their behavior.

Emulating risky behavior

Parents who use drugs or misuse alcohol can increase children's risk of future drug problem, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. "Children see how the parent acts and begin emulating this because they look up to the parent," Dr. Winchester says.

Research has shown that children who are exposed to a parent with a substance use disorder are more likely to develop substance abuse symptoms themselves. They are also more likely to experience difficulties in academic, social, and family functioning.

Financial instability

"[Substance abusers may] spend money excessively which can leave their family with unpaid rent, utilities and bills," Dr. Winchester tells WebMD Connect to Care. "Their behavior may also mean they get fired from work. This all leads to them being unable to care for children or meet family responsibilities."

Help is available

If your loved one is battling addiction and it is impacting you, it's okay for you to seek help. Therapy and/or support groups are a great place to start.

"When a loved one has an addiction, sometimes this leads family and friends to feel hopeless and alone, but there are plenty of outreach and supportive services that can help," Dr. Winchester says.

Al-Anon, Nar-Anon and SMART Recovery Family and Friends are mutual support groups for friends and family members of individuals with substance use problems, where you can vent, seek support, receive advice, and be reassured that you are not alone.

You can also participate in individual or group therapy. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) groups sometimes hold 'open' meetings where family and friends can attend.

Treatment & Resources: General Information