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How Substance Abuse and Drug Addiction Affect Families

two parents in the background cover their faces while a child looks at the camera somberly as she experiences how Drugs affect family

It is easy and tempting to think of addiction and drug abuse as individual problems that only affect the person using drugs. The reality is far more complex and wide-reaching. Drugs affect a family in numerous ways. The impact of substance abuse tends to ripple throughout a family unit. Drugs affect family members profoundly, often causing financial, social, and relational issues. Drug abuse, in the case of illicit drugs, can even land people in legal trouble. Due to how substance abuse affects families, addiction treatment must address more than just an individual’s issue with drug use. It must look holistically at the family situation and work to repair the damage caused by addiction.

Learn more about Rockland Recovery’s family program by calling 855.732.4842.

How Substance Abuse Affects Families

So how does addiction affect families? It starts with relationships. Every family has its own dynamics that have built up over time. Addiction upends these dynamics, often exacerbating underlying tension or difficulty and straining positive aspects of the family unit. Parent, child, spouse, or sibling affects every family role by substance abuse and addiction. This effect is especially true for the family members who reside in the same household as someone struggling with addiction.

Drugs affect family members by altering relationships and forcing each person to respond. How each family member responds to the reality of addiction may differ. For instance, one person may withdraw because they want to avoid conflict and chaos. Another person may try to control their addicted loved one’s behavior. Another possibility is that a family member coddles the person struggling with addiction and constantly makes excuses for their behavior to the rest of the family.

How Drugs Affect Families

Addiction treatment providers often discuss six common family roles that occur in response to addiction. Each of these is explored below.

1. The Person Struggling with Addiction

A person struggling with addiction is a person with a substance abuse problem. They can be viewed as the sun around which all the other roles orbit. Often, this person does not realize their actions impact the rest of the family or that the family dynamic has come to center on them.

2. The Caretaker

This role tends to make excuses for the family member struggling with addiction. They often go out of their way to keep things peaceful and maintain a sense of normalcy. The caretaker may go above and beyond in sacrificial ways because they believe their actions are necessary to keep the family from falling apart.

3. The Hero

The hero is somewhat similar to the caretaker, except that they do not tolerate or accept the drug abuse. Nonetheless, they do everything possible to maintain a sense of normality for the external world. Oldest siblings fall into this category with regularity.

4. The Scapegoat

The scapegoat is the opposite of the hero. They may act out in order to draw attention to themselves because they feel the center of the universe being pulled toward the addiction. Attention may sometimes be diverted away from the drug abuse, yet this does nothing to resolve the core issues.

5. The Mascot

The mascot leans into comic relief and fun to salvage the creaking family dynamics. This form of diverting attention is less destructive than what the scapegoat gets up to but once again does not solve the real issues.

6. The Lost Child

The lost child tries to fly under the radar and stay out of the way. They may become forgotten or overlooked as the family becomes overwhelmed by the presence of addiction.

Overcome the Impacts of Addiction at Rockland Recovery

The best way for families to overcome the impact of substance abuse and addiction is to seek professional help. The most obvious candidate for that is the person who is struggling with an addiction. Many treatment providers offer specialized services that support the entire family unit in recovering from the damage caused by addiction. Drugs affect the family by causing:

  • Financial hardship
  • Increased risk of abuse
  • The spread of drug abuse
  • Broken relationships

Call Rockland Recovery at 855.732.4842 today to learn how your family can overcome addiction and recover what has been lost.

Medical Reviewer Kate Perfetti, LADC II

Medically Reviewed by Kate Perfetti, LADC II

Kate is a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor who has worked in the field of substance abuse for the last nine years. At Rockland Recovery, Kate works to provide resources to the local community and engage and progress Rockland Recovery’s alumni program.


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