The disease of addiction is a complex disease that is unlike any other disease. Many people think that addiction only affects the addict, but the truth is that what addiction does to the family is often just as bad as what it does to the addict, if not worse.
As a result of their addiction, many addicts experience:
Any addict will tell you that being in active addiction feels like a full-time job.
People who are having problems with substance abuse are not the only ones affected by their problem. Family members are also negatively affected. Whether it’s a parent, spouse, or child, addiction can be an all-consuming matter for all who care about the addict.
How addiction affects the family also depends on which family member is the addict. For example, the child who is using drugs affects the parents in a certain way, while parents using drugs affect the children in a certain way. Spouses of the addict are also impacted in a unique way.
If you’re a family member of an addict, one of the best things you can do is talk to other family members who are dealing with the same thing. It’s important that you know:
There are numerous effects that drug addiction has on family members. These include:
Even though each family member has their own unique experience with how addiction affects them, there is no denying that addiction has a serious impact on each member. Each family member, depending on their role, also responds in their own way to the situation.
Some family members will step back and spend little time with the family to avoid the addict. They want to stay away from the drama and chaos that addiction can bring. Some family members then react the opposite way and try and control the addict. In a sense, they become addicted to the addict.
Then there are those family members that try to remain as neutral as possible.
It’s estimated that 1 in 8 children have a parent they live with who struggles with addiction. How this affects a child depends on a couple of things:
Children who live with one parent who is in active addiction don’t have another parent to turn to for support. This is also true if both parents are present but both are using. If only one parent is using and the other parent is present, there is at least some sober parental support for a child. The sober parent can step in and protect a child from negative situations caused by addiction.
Whatever the case may be, children who have any parent that is struggling with addiction often deal with:
Children in addicted homes are also more likely to be physically and emotionally abused. They may also experience:
Parents of an addict find themselves in a difficult position. They will often blame their child's addiction on themselves. They will wonder why their child started doing drugs in the first place and how they’ve failed their child.
Parents may spend countless hours staying up all night worrying about their addicted child. They may even try to mentally prepare themselves for their child’s death. It’s difficult for a parent to feel like they have no power to keep their child from suffering.
Many parents support their children financially in hopes that they will stop using drugs and change the path they are going down. This can enable the addict to continue using without having to deal with consequences, such as being homeless.
The siblings of an addict can sometimes be thought of as the “invisible victims.” Their parents are consumed with the addict. All of their parent's attention goes to the addict, leaving the siblings feeling neglected.
This can leave children feeling like they are standing on the sidelines of family life. Emotions they may feel include:
Some siblings will vow to never go down the same path that their addicted sibling has gone down. However, other siblings may turn to drugs and alcohol themselves. Become addicted to substances themselves, they may try to numb the pain of dealing with their sibling's addiction.
They may also start using drugs to get some of their parent's attention back from them.
Whether or not the addict in the family gets better, the family can choose to recover if they wish.
There are many resources available.
One resource is individual counseling. Individual counseling can help a family member see that they are giving too much attention to the addict. It may be suggested that they take more time for self-care and focus on some of their personal goals that may have gone to the wayside.
As there are 12-step meetings for the addict, there are also 12-step meetings for family members. Al-Anon is a 12-step group for family members that uses the traditional 12 steps to help them heal.
For children, there is also Alateen. This is usually focused on children aged 13-18. It allows them a safe space to talk about things that they may have been too afraid or ashamed to talk about in the first place.
In order to find out about all the resources available to you, contact a mental health professional as they will be able to guide you in the right direction.
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