Addiction Is a Family Disease

Addiction Is a Family Disease

By Donna Marie Brown, MSN , APRN, FNP-C, is a Family Nurse Practitioner at Master Center for Addiction Medicine 

Millions of Americans misuse or are dependent on alcohol or drugs. Battling a  substance use disorder (SUD) is viewed by many as a personal experience. Because harmful substances have devastating effects on the user, many may not take into consideration the impact on spouses, children, and parents. Many individuals who abuse alcohol or drugs are working, productive members of society. This creates a false sense of security within the family that “it’s not that bad.”

Families with alcohol and drug problems usually have high levels of stress and confusion. Conflict becomes normal as family members fight to engage with the family who is in the throes of addiction. Trust begins to erode. Relatives may become more guarded if a relative abusing illicit substances acts with aggression or hides their disorder in secrecy. Marriages can end due to changes caused by addiction. Communication becomes more difficult, highlighting frustration.

It is important to talk honestly with children about what is happening in the family and to help them express their concerns and feelings. Children need to be able to trust the adults in their lives and to believe that they will support them. According to Psychology Today, 1 in 5 children grow up in a home where a parent abuses drugs or alcohol. Witnessing the trauma of a parent suffering from addiction at a young age has long-term effects on the child. Children who grow up seeing a parent addicted to drugs or alcohol are more likely to develop SUDs in their adulthood. They are also three times more likely to be neglected or physically and/or sexually abused. Seeing a parent on drugs often invokes distressing emotions which not only create delays in learning and development but can also lead to prolonged mental and emotional disorders.  Since children are still developing their personalities and are vulnerable to external influences, they run the risk of repeating such behaviors. 

Addiction tends to worsen over time, hurting both the addicted person and the family. Often addicted individuals are reluctant to seek help. If someone close to you misuses alcohol or drugs, the first step is to be honest about the problem and seek help for yourself, your family, and your loved one.

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Contact Master Center to learn more about our broad range of outpatient treatment options, detox programs, Medication-Assisted Treatment, social support services, continual assessment, recovery coaching, and peer-based models offered in Greater Richmond, Gloucester, and Hampton. Master Center provides same day and next day appointments.

Other Resources for Families:

Families Anonymous:

Nar-Anon Family Groups:

Al-Anon Family Groups:

Substance Abuse and Addiction Recovery Alliance of Virginia: