How Addiction Impacts the Family
When it comes to addiction, we often think most about the addict. He is struggling with a chronic illness that is incredibly difficult to treat. He has likely suffered in many ways, including health consequences, financial problems, job loss and/or other impacts on his life. But what about his family? How does addiction impact parents, children, siblings and everyone else close to the addict?
Addiction and Children
Whether the children involved are the siblings of the addict or their offspring, they will be affected by addiction. For the children of the addict, the situation is usually worse. One typical outcome is that a child will try to act like a replacement for the addicted parent. This child may fill in as a parent to younger siblings, or even as a partner to the spouse of the addict. This means that the child is not acting in an age-appropriate manner. He is trying to make up for an absent adult. This can lead to problems later in life, such as difficulties having healthy relationships or even substance abuse.
Young children also suffer in other ways when there is an addict in the family. Having an addicted older sibling or parent can cause a child to develop social, emotional, behavioral and academic problems. Some of these are lifelong struggles. Children of addicts are more likely to get divorced, experience domestic violence and have mental illnesses.
Children may also suffer developmentally from a mother who abuses substances while pregnant. When a pregnant woman exposes her unborn child to drugs or alcohol, the effects can be serious. A child can be born addicted and will experience withdrawal. These children will have various developmental issues growing up that can affect learning skills, language, motor skills, behavior and more.
Addiction and the Partner
The partner of an addict is also impacted by the illness of addiction. If there are children involved, the partner must assume more responsibility. She learns that she cannot rely on her partner to help her. She may also experience domestic violence or emotional abuse. There may be financial problems caused by the drug or alcohol habit. The stress of the situation can lead to anxiety, depression or other mental health issues. Many of these relationships end in divorce.
Addiction and Parents
Parents of addicts suffer too, but they are often not considered. Even if the addict is an adult, the impact of his addiction on his parents can be serious. Older parents may fall into the trap of enabling an addict. They may give money to a son who is abusing substances thinking they are helping and suffer financially as a consequence.
The psychological impacts can be negative as well. Parents may experience guilt, shame and stress due to the situation. A growing and troubling trend among older Americans is a rise in substance abuse. Older parents may use prescription drugs or alcohol to cope with the emotional distress caused by a grown child’s addiction.
Addiction is a serious illness with a whole range of potential consequences. The effects of addiction ripple outward from the addict. They touch everyone around him, but especially family members. When addicts get treatment, it is essential that family members also get help. They need not wait for the addict to get help. Family members seeking counseling benefit and learn to cope with the effects of addiction.