How Does Addiction Affect Family and Friends?
January 11th, 2017
Addiction is not a one-way street. When a person compulsively uses drugs or alcohol, their behaviors do not exist in a vacuum. The negative behaviors—of which there are many—carry outward in a capacity that heavily, and often tragically, affects their loved ones. It can be exceedingly hard to be in this role, as a friend or family member of a person who is addicted. The unfortunate truth is, due to the fact that most addicted individuals are heavily steeped in denial, people who use often do not understand the full impact of their actions on themselves, let alone the ways they affect those they love.
Losing The relationship — One of the hallmarks of substance abuse and addiction is that a person separates themselves from their family and friends and loses interest in activities that previously interested them, including things they used to do with these people. This withdrawal may be very painful, as rather suddenly they lose their best friend, husband or wife.
Perpetuates Emotional Turmoil And Negative Mindsets — Family and friends may encounter a host of negative mindsets and emotions as a result of their loved one’s substance abuse or addiction. They may begin to blame themselves in a capacity that erodes their sense of self-worth or self-love. Addiction fosters mistrust, as addicted individuals very commonly lie to their loved ones about their habits, going to great measures to be secretive, evasive and dishonest about their behaviors. A person’s spouse may experience a sense of loss or disappointment, as shared endeavors or hopes seem to fall apart and the addiction takes precedent over the relationship’s or family’s needs. Depression and anxiety may become prevalent in family members, and the emotional toll is often very great on children of substance abusers.
Creates The Role Of A Caretaker — When a person is addicted, their body and brain both suffer extensively from the toxic burden of the drugs or alcohol with which they are constantly flooding their system. Due to this, a variety of illnesses, diseases or disorders may manifest, many of which may place family members or close friends in a role where they feel as if they need to take care of and look after the person. Caretaking can become a great burden, often to the extent that it begins to even take toll on that person’s health physically, especially within the realm of mental health disorders, like anxiety and depression. Oftentimes these people will shift their focus from their needs, to those of the addicted person, too frequently forgetting to take care of themselves.
Creates Negative Roles — In addition to caretaking, the presence of an addiction can change a family dynamic and even friendships in a myriad of ways, the most notable, and perhaps well-known being enabling. An enabler is typically a spouse or partner, though it may be a child in a single parent scenario, or even a close friend. When a person enables someone, they may either knowingly, or unknowingly contribute to the person’s drug or alcohol use by their actions.
Many times this person is in denial as well, to the extent that they fail to see the full truth of the addiction as well as the enabling results of their actions, many of which they may perceive as acts of love or support. Examples 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 when the addiction inhibits their ability to properly do so or lying on their behalf to family and friends about their behavior.
Becoming Isolated From Your Family And Friends — This is a side effect of enabling, but one that is impactful enough that it is important to mention on its own. In order to protect your spouse, parent, child or friend, you may withdraw from other family members or your social circle to form a “protective” barrier between them and your loved one. In the process, you lose contact with these people as well, effectively rendering what could be a positive and beneficial support system fairly null and void.
Financial Stability — An addiction takes money, often massive amounts. As a person’s use becomes more frequent and compulsive, they often run out of financial resources to purchase their substance of abuse. When this happens, several things may occur. A person may lose their job due to their addiction, they may use money that is meant for other things to fuel their habit or they may steal money to do this. In regards to the former two, these may lead the user to default on various bills, including utilities, rent or a mortgage, even to the extent that their family loses power, heat or even the roof over their head. When a person is unable to provide or contribute financially for their family, it places undue amounts of stress on their partner and even children.
When someone suffering from addiction steals money, it is often from their family members, which only serves to make it harder for them to pay the bills and propagates many harmful emotions. This theft may come in another more obtuse form—a person may use a shared credit card, or even their partner’s, to purchase drugs online.
Abuse — This is the dark underbelly of addiction in some relationships. Alcohol and drugs change a person’s brain, effectively altering the way they reason, the risks they’ll take, decreasing their inhibitions, and even making them more prone to violent or aggressive behaviors. This abuse may be sexual, verbal, emotional or even physical, and may be directed at any family member, including a spouse or child.
Within the context of a couple, this abuse is so prevalent, that it even has a name — intimate partner violence (IPV), a travesty, that the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) tells us “is a major public health concern.” They continue, reporting numerous research that finds 40-60 percent of instances of IPV occur in conjunction with substance abuse. They also report that on the days where the substance abuse was most excessive, the rate of physical violence was 11 times greater with IPV batterers.
These damaging behaviors do even more to further perpetuate the cycle of substance abuse and addiction. ASAM writes that “Spousal abuse has been identified as a predictor of developing a substance abuse problem and/or addiction.” Perhaps even more frightening is this—they report that abused women have given accounts of being pressured into using drugs or alcohol by their partners.
Alcohol and drug abuse are also implicated in rates of childhood abuse and neglect, another tragic behavior that serves towards fueling this vicious cycle. Individuals who are abused as children are far more likely to suffer from substance abuse or addiction as adults. UMC Health System details findings from a study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse that found that children with parents who abused drugs or alcohol “were almost three times more likely to be abused and more that four times more likely to be neglected than children of parents who are not substance abusers.” The U.S. Child Welfare Information Gateway reported that one- to two-thirds of child maltreatment cases were linked to substance use in 1999, with current numbers creating an even broader range. The World Health Organization details that in the U.S. 35 percent of parental child abuse involved alcohol or drugs.
Exposing Your Child To Damaging Influences — Children learn by example, and in these formative years, they are extensively shaped by their environment. In addition to the fact that there may already be a genetic risk factor due to the biological connection between parent and child, a child may be more apt to experiment with drugs or alcohol at some point because they consistently witness these behaviors. Foremost, they may be more inclined to think that using—and abusing—these substances is okay and even acceptable (keep in mind, some children may not always realize a person is addicted, and find this behavior to be normal). Secondly, research illustrates that a large amount of children actually procure their drugs or alcohol from a parent.
The National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse XIV quantitates this impact, noting that in comparison to teens whose parents never used the following substances, teens with parents who drank alcohol 30 days prior experienced over two times the risk of claiming they could “get alcohol in an hour or less.” Teens whose parents used marijuana would themselves be 2.5 times more likely to try it than those teens whose parents had never tried it.
Risk Of Disease — Certain drugs of abuse, like heroin and meth, among others, carry risk of serious, and potentially deadly transmissible diseases. HIV and hepatitis, primarily C, though B is of concern as well, are all too common within certain populations of drug users. The primary threat is to injection drug users, due to them often sharing dirty needles, however, the risk extends to other non-injecting users as well. This is because addiction lowers their inhibitions, increases their propensity towards risky behaviors and creates an intense need to find, obtain and use the drug, which sometimes results in a person trading sex for their substance of choice.
If a person contracts one of these diseases, their partner is at risk of contracting it as well, should they engage in sexual activities after infection occurs. Similarly, pregnant women with drug abuse problems may risk their unborn child’s health in that certain diseases, such as AIDS, can be transferred in utero. Babies born to addicted mothers commonly—when the mother is suffering a physical addiction—will be born addicted to said substance and may experience withdrawal symptoms, some of which can be dangerous if not fatal.
Divorce — Addiction causes extreme amounts of stress and tension in many ways, as we’ve outlined here. The sad but unfortunate truth is, that in many cases, this toll is so intense, that the couple is unable to survive within the toxic environment the addiction created, resulting in divorce. Now this is not to say that if one partner has an addiction that divorce is imminent, rather that statistically speaking, the risk is greater.
One study, presented by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, examined this correlation, finding that “A consumption increase of 1 liter of alcohol per capita brings about an increase in the divorce rate of about 20%.” An article on these findings, further elaborates, extrapolating this increase, noting that these couples would then see about a 50 percent chance of divorce within these circumstances of addiction.
Fortunately, these situations don’t have to continue. Various outreach and supportive services exist to help friends and family members balance these effects, including various support groups like Al-Anon family groups and Adult Children of Alcoholics. In addition, therapy and counseling is always an option. Here, at the Treehouse, within our compassionate and comprehensive treatment program, we offer Family Therapy & Support Programs to help you effectively alter, enhance and heal your damaged family dynamic. If an addiction and denial are advanced, you may even want to consider enlisting the aid of a professional to help you stage an intervention.
If you’re experiencing any of these negative and damaging situations as a result of your friend or family member’s addiction, please, don’t sit back any longer. We can offer you even more information on your concerns and about our excellent addiction treatment program. Contact us today.
UMC Health System — Child Abuse
American Society of Addiction Medicine — Intimate Partner Violence and Co-Occurring Substance Abuse/Addiction
Child Welfare Information Gateway — Parental Substance Use and the Child Welfare System
World Health Organization — Child Maltreatment and Alcohol
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse — National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse XIV