When discussing addiction and its impact, brief and superficial lip-service is often paid to damage it creates within the family unit. We hear common tropes like how substance abuse takes its tolls on families first and how it’s often addicts’ loved ones who suffer the hardest; but what does that really look like close up? The reality is that over 20 million Americans currently suffer from some sort of substance use disorder and a large majority of these people have a whole group of families, friends and loved ones that suffer right alongside them. While the impact on the family is different, there are some common problems that manifest when drug and alcohol abuse invades a home.
For one thing, it’s not uncommon for the affected family member’s addiction to dominate the household. The nature of addiction is so urgent and pervasive that families very often have little time or energy to tend to their own lives and needs. Each possible overdose, each addiction-related crime, each family altercation forces families to mobilize to try and mitigate the fallout. After a while, regardless of how close a family may have been prior to combating addiction together, this all-consuming problem can breed powerful resentment and frustration that spills over into other relationships in the family (parents, siblings or both).
Addiction and substance abuse also correlates closely with domestic violence. The United States Justice Department reports that over 60 percent of all domestic abusers suffer from substance use disorder and the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence reports that two thirds of all domestic violence incidents involve alcohol in some form. Nearly 90 percent of domestic violence program directors agree that risk increases when alcohol or drugs are involved. Nearly 80% of all child-abuse cases involve the presence of drugs and/or alcohol. Children who experience domestic violence either directly or passively are at a much higher risk of developing substance abuse problems of their own.
When we discuss the impact that addiction has on the family unit, it’s important to understand exactly what that means and what it looks like. This kind of strain is what makes the intervention process so difficult. It’s also important to remember, however, that addiction is a disease that transforms the brain chemistry and forces people to seek drugs or alcohol beyond logic, reason and regarding for themselves and others. We have to remember that the vibrant, loving and caring person we love is still in there somewhere, no matter how hopeless or desperate we think the situation may be, and we can begin the process of getting our loved ones back by guiding them toward addiction treatment.