How Addiction Affects the Family Unit


How Addiction Affects the Family Unit

Whether it is a parent, a child, a spouse or an extended family member who struggles with addiction, there is no question that addiction directly affects the family unit. Anyone who has struggled with addiction themselves or had a loved one with an addiction problem would likely agree that addiction does not exist in a vacuum; instead, it directly impacts the entire family. When addiction to alcohol or drugs is a factor in family life, it introduces a new level of stress and disunity to the family.

  • A parent with an addiction affects the entire family
  • A spouse or partner struggling with addiction affects the other partner
  • A parent with an addiction issue directly affects their children
  • A child with an addiction problem introduces new level stress to both parents and siblings

This is not to say that addiction within the family creates a hopeless situation. With the right coping skills, supportive strategies, and interpersonal tools the family can actually serve as a great source of support for the individual struggling with addiction. To begin with, you can take a short quiz if you are unsure whether or not your family member or loved one is struggling with addiction. In order to take on this role, it is important to understand the effects of addiction on the family in the first place. With this in mind, here we outline some of the major effects of addiction on the family unit before turning to what can be done to minimize these effects.

The Effects of Addiction on the Family

It is not enough to simply say that addiction affects the family unit – the reality is much more complicated than that. Addiction affects every family differently, depending on how persistent the addiction is, which family member struggles with addiction, and whether or not these families have external social support. However, regardless of these factors, addiction tends to introduce increased amounts of stress, which in turn affects many different areas of family life and many different members of the family.

“Addiction is a family disease that stresses the family to the breaking point, impacts the stability of the home, the family’s unity, mental health, physical health, finances, and overall family dynamics. Living with addiction can put family members under unusual stress. Without help, active addiction can totally disrupt family life and cause harmful effects that can last a lifetime.”

~ National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependence

More specifically, the social, psychological, and emotional issues caused by addiction can often give way to some of the following elements in family life:

  • Increased Stress
  • Reversed roles (a child acting as caretaker of their parent)
  • Disjointed conversations and relationships
  • Inappropriate dependency
  • Denial (from both the parent and the child)
  • Verbal and/or emotional abuse
  • Fear or anger
  • Guilt
  • Self-medication
  • Inconsistency in parenting
  • Negativity

The primary way that addiction affects the family unit is through negativity. When a family member struggles with addiction, any form of communication is more likely to be negative – complaints, criticism, blame, and either anger or guilt become the most common sentiments expressed by family members. Over time, this only works to undermine the trust, love, and respect that all relationships should be built upon. This often extends in many different directions – from a parent to a child, from a child to a parent, and from a spouse to another spouse. But this does not only apply to the immediate family.

“The effects of substance abuse frequently extend beyond the nuclear family. Extended family members may experience feelings of abandonment, anxiety, fear, anger, concern embarrassment, or guilt; they may wish to ignore or cut ties with the person abusing substances. Intergenerational effects of substance abuse can have a negative impact on role modeling, trust, and concepts of normative behavior, which can damage the relationships between generations.”

~ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

In other words, addiction can often have long-lasting effects within the family, across both relationships and generations. Addiction within the family can affect a cycle of unhealthy relationships, a lack of trust, and a lack of modeling for what constitutes normal and healthy behavior. With this in mind, it is crucial to understand what can be done to minimize these detrimental effects of addiction on the family unit.

What to Do Now: How to Minimize the Effects of Addiction on the Family

Addiction certainly has an effect on the family. But that does not mean that hope is out of reach – neither for yourself nor for the one you love. Support from the family can make a difference in the life of someone needing addiction treatment. Thankfully, you do not have to develop these supportive skills on your own. In fact, we recommend that you do not try to since it can be much easier for everyone involved to receive outside, professional help and counseling.

For instance, many addiction treatment centers offer family counseling for addiction. These programs help families develop the relational and communication skills that they need in order to overcome the effects of addiction and to help each other thrive overall. In fact, most intensive outpatient programs and even inpatient drug rehab programs include family nights in order to give families the chance to heal together.

In addition to these specific programs, there are also support groups available for individuals who have family members or loved ones that struggle with addiction or alcoholism. You can find the resources and support you need by participating in the following groups:

  •  Al-Anon ~ support groups for family members and loved ones of alcoholics
  •  Nar-anon ~ support groups for family members and loved ones of addicts
  •  Adult Children – designed to support the adult children of both addicts and alcoholics

If you have experience with the effects of addiction on the family unit, or further questions about what can be done about these detrimental effects, feel free to either contact Ashwood Recovery or leave a comment in the comment section below.

May 16th, 2017|2 Comments


  1. Karen Hughes August 28, 2018 at 12:46 am

    My husband is addicted to pot and porn. It has destroyed my life and my daughter’s relationships with their father. He managed to hide this from me for years. My daughter ‘s ages 23 and 19 are aware of the pot addiction , but not the porn. I gave the best years of my life to my husband. I feel that he has destroyed my life.

    • Ashwood Recovery September 8, 2018 at 6:00 pm

      Sorry you and your family are dealing with this. Have you discussed your feelings with your husband? If he is looking to overcome his addictions we can help

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