acquiesce - April 30th, 2020

How addiction affects the family

Addiction is a challenging disease that can impact every area of a person’s life from the spiritual, to the moral, mental, emotional, and physical.

Fighting a substance use disorder or any other type of addiction is regarded by many as a personal experience. However, because addiction has a destructive influence on the user, it does not take into consideration other people directly involved – for example, the family. Suddenly the addict’s substance misuse becomes a family affair, with partners, parents, children and friends finding themselves playing a dual role in the addict’s life.

The addict’s negative behaviours, of which there are many, extend outwards, often leaving their loved ones feeling traumatised and overwhelmed. The sad reality is that due to the fact most addicted individuals are deeply immersed in denial, they are not aware of the extreme amount of stress and tension that surrounds them. We know addiction is complicated however the destructive impact it has on the family is clearly visible, affecting the stability and unity of the family, often leaving members feeling afraid, angry, ashamed, lonely and guilty. In order to get the full picture of the many ways addiction affects families it is important to try to understand the impact it has on the family structure.


Intimate relationships are often one of the first components of an addict’s life which are destroyed. Addiction can unapologetically take control and destroy intimate relationships. When a person is struggling with addiction the need for drugs or alcohol can often override everything, including love. Over time, addiction destroys the very foundation of close relationships, critical qualities of a relationship like trust, stability, respect, intimacy and communication become difficult and impossible to maintain.

Deception and Lies

One of the most common frustrations partners experience with addicted loved ones is the level of deception and secrecy. Addicts often feel ashamed, guilty and are very afraid of being judged. In order to deal with such intense emotions and hide the extent of their substance use they become more and more secretive about their behaviours and activities. They lie about the money they are spending, the places they are frequenting and so on. When they are questioned about such behaviours, they often become defensive and verbally attack their loved ones.

Loss of Trust

Trust is also a major casualty of addiction. As the addiction progresses, the lies that a person must tell, to cover up their addiction become unmanageable, often resembling a tangled web. For their loved one, trust and respect slowly begins to erode. It does not take long for the unkept promises, the financial fiascos and the worry and heartache to damage relationships that were once built on trust. So, what can the addict do about this? Trust is essential to maintain a healthy relationship and the great news is that trust and respect can eventually be regained. If you are in a relationship with an addicted person or are struggling with addiction yourself it is important to know that help is available.
Enabling Relationships
If you are in a relationship with someone who has an addiction to drugs or alcohol you may become caught in the trap of enabling.
When you love an addict, it is only natural to want to help, however, it is important to understand the difference between supporting and enabling.

What is Enabling?

Enabling an addict is the process of supporting and helping them to the point that they do not have to deal with the consequences of their actions. This role is often undertaken by the non-addicted partner but often other members of the family can also become enablers. Some examples of enabling behaviours are:

• taking care of finances

• providing them with money to support their habit,
• downplaying the severity of the problem
• lying on their behalf to shield them from consequences
• simply doing nothing at all about the addict’s behaviours
Whilst it is incredibly difficult watching an addict spiral out of control enabling and protecting the individual from the consequences of their actions gives them, and the person who is enabling, no incentive to change. It is important for the addict’s loved one to recognise that they, too, are locked in an unhealthy pattern of behaviour which stops them and the addict from seeking professional help.

Co-Dependant Relationships

Co-dependency and enabling behaviours are similar concepts that often go hand in hand. Watching your loved one struggle with drugs or alcohol is tough and whilst you may feel a deep sense of responsibility to ensure the well-being of your loved one, it is essential you do not accidentally fall into the dangerous trap of co-dependency.

What is Co-dependency?

Co-dependency is a common side-effect of addiction that affects the addict’s loved ones. This dynamic is not limited to romantic relationships and is often found between parent and children as well as siblings. Co-dependency is characterised by loved ones becoming totally preoccupied and dependent upon the emotional, social and sometimes physical needs of the addict. The consequence of this type of relationship is that loved ones become so wrapped up in the person with the addiction that they begin to dramatically change their own behaviours and actions, often rationalising and covering up the addict’s negative behaviours and enabling the addiction to continue.

Co-dependency and enabling relationships can be damaging for everyone involved. If an addicted person never has to face the consequences of their addiction, they many not seek the necessary help. At Acquiesce, our team of expert practitioners will advise you on how to help an addict without enabling their substance abuse. We specialise in helping the whole family heal from the damage caused by addiction.

How Does Addiction Affect Children?

The children of parents or carers who misuse substances are the silent victims of addiction often becoming bogged down in the chaos, violence and drama that surrounds their addicted parent or carer. Furthermore, the effects of addiction on these children is two-fold. Firstly, they are exposed to alcohol and drugs and may be more apt to experiment with them. Secondly, they lack positive role models. Children learn by example and are extensively shaped by their environment. Sadly, addicted parents are, often, unequipped to provide the basic physical, psychological and emotional care that children need to thrive and develop. These children may feel insecure and unloved and oftentimes they begin to take on adult responsibilities that are not appropriate for their age. If you are a parent or carer suffering with addiction it is important to realise that there is something you can about it.

The Addicted Child

Having a child succumb to the disease of addiction is devastating. There are no words to describe how families are affected, other than pain and tears. Parents often blame one another and find themselves arguing over how to handle the situation. The addicted child takes centre stage and life is suddenly turned upside down, affecting family dynamics. Parents find themselves wondering where they went wrong and often become overprotective towards their addicted children. They may start providing money for drugs and alcohol, paying off debts and covering up for them, often becoming enablers. However, nothing you do works for them. It is time to stop beating yourself up; you did not cause the disease and you cannot cure it, but you can influence the outcome. First, and foremost it is important to understand that help is available, do not wait for the sick child to ask for help, reach out and lead the way, involve the professionals.

How Do You Heal Relationships After Addiction?

The effects of substance use on families are many and varied with addiction having a devastating impact on all relationships. It is, however, important to realise that no matter the hardship that has been caused by those we love, and no matter the damage that we ourselves have inflicted, repairing those relationship is always possible.

If addiction is impacting your family or you are struggling with an addiction yourself then the key to healing and rebuilding your fractured relationships is to seek help. Addiction is a treatable disease. The drug and alcohol treatment programme we provide, here at Acquiesce, is modern and recognises the importance of repairing existing relationships as well creating new ones. With time, effort, and our professional help, you, your partner, or other family members, affected by the addiction, can repair the damage and move toward a happy, fulfilled and healthy life.

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