The Effects of Drug Addiction on Family Members

The Effects of Drug Addiction on Family Members

Drug addiction and alcoholism don’t just affect the addicted individual. While excessive and prolonged use of drugs or alcohol will slowly deteriorate the user’s physical health and wellbeing, it doesn’t stop there.

Unfortunately, substance use disorders have far-reaching effects on loved ones and usually affects the entire family. The effects of drug addiction on family members can manifest in various forms, largely impacting children, spouses, parents, and other familial relationships.

If someone you love has a substance abuse problem, and you want to learn more about its harmful effects on family members, read on. Our drug addiction treatment center team will tell you everything you need to know below.

How Addiction Affects Families

Addiction affects children, spouses and partners, parents, and general family relationships because it can put an emotional, physical, or financial strain on the connections between family members.

Children may struggle to bond with their siblings or parent struggling with their addiction, parents may feel responsible for their child’s problem, spouses or partners may undergo codependency with their relationship, and the extended family could start to feel helpless.

No matter how you look at it, the side effects of addiction are felt by all, not just by the person suffering from addiction.

Effects of Drug Addiction on Children

Of all the family members impacted by a loved one’s substance abuse disorder, children suffer the most damaging effects. Children who live in a home with addicted individuals are especially susceptible to this kind of harm. 

While problems can manifest while the child is living with the addict, issues almost always arrive in adulthood, leading to their own struggles with addiction.

Here are several ways that drug addiction can affect the child of an addicted person.

Changes In Behavior

It’s important to recognize signs that a child is being affected by their parent’s drug abuse. 

When there is a parent who is addicted to alcohol or drugs , the children can start to feel lonely without proper care. They can also begin to hold onto feelings of guilt and anxiety, assuming that their parent’s struggles have something to do with them. They feel helpless because they can see the problem but don’t understand it enough to be able to stop it. 

Over time, they can develop a fear of abandonment from years of exposure. This can also turn into a negative self-image and depressive episodes down the road.

Pregnancy and Long-Term Impact

Issues may be small and relatively inconsequential while the child is young, but as they grow older, they can develop into more serious internal issues if not addressed. 

Conversely, some children are physically impacted by their parent’s use before they’re even born in the case of drug abuse during pregnancy. These health problems can then turn into behavioral and developmental disorders after birth.

Shifting Family Roles and Future

Did you know that one in five adults in America has lived with an alcoholic relative at some time while growing up? These individuals then grow up with a much greater risk of emotional and behavioral problems than those not exposed to alcoholics. 

These children are four times more chances to develop substance use disorders themselves. The impact may also lead them to find an abusive or addicted spouse later on.

Financial Strain

The effects of drug addiction don’t only impact children emotionally and physically. Drug abuse can also have severe financial implications. 

When a parent is spending money on drugs or alcohol rather than the food and clothing their child needs, it can lead to an undereducated or malnourished child. The house is often unstable, confusing the child between the stable, sober version of their parents and the intoxicated version. They’re likely to spend more time unsupervised, forcing them to fend for themselves as best they can. This type of child abuse, brought on by drug addiction in this situation, is called neglect.

Parents who struggle with substance abuse are also more likely to:

  • Divorce
  • Become unemployed
  • Take on legal problems
  • Develop a mental illness

All of these factors can negatively impact their abilities to parent appropriately.


Parents involved with illicit substances will often expose their young children to harmful situations, sometimes even asking them to lie or do something inappropriate to support their drug or alcohol habit. These bad habits can even bring them down the road to child abuse.

Effects of Drug Addiction on the Spouses

Being married to a person who is addicted is another difficult familial relationship to navigate. Of all family members, this is the adult loved one with the most direct ties to the individual. The effects of drug addiction on family members are bad all around, but it can be especially difficult for a spouse or partner.

Relationship Troubles

When one partner deals with a substance abuse problem and the other doesn’t have these kinds of problems, the relationship becomes more likely to end in divorce or separation. With one person controlled by their addiction, the other partner is left to handle the majority of the household and family responsibilities.

Alcoholism has specifically been linked to higher divorce rates.

Toxic Household

When both partners have an addiction, the issues are compounded. The two will feed off one another, creating an enabling atmosphere. While it might not necessarily increase the relationship’s chances of divorce, it will surely make the household more toxic to anyone inside it. 

When one person’s sober, there’s at least one voice of reason that can try to keep things in order and urge them to seek addiction treatment. But when there are two, the relationship will slowly deteriorate as eventually, drugs or alcohol become more important than the other person.


Additionally, the effects of drug abuse on family members can include codependency, especially in the case of a spouse. The term ‘codependency’ saw a rise in the 1980s as a way to describe someone who is too involved with someone else’s life to their own detriment.

Codependency causes a dysfunctional relationship where the sober person puts their needs aside for someone with an addiction, despite any detrimental consequences it may have. 

Someone who is codependent may make excuses on the unwell individual’s behalf or do whatever it takes to stay on good terms with them. At inception, the term was used to exclusively describe an addicted individual who relied on their spouse for physical, mental, and financial wellbeing. Today, the term has grown to include any family members or loved one with an established relationship with a person who is addicted to something.

Effects of Drug Addiction on Parents

Even if the addicted person is a fully grown adult, addiction can still impact their parents. No matter the age, the effects of drug addiction reach the entire family. 


As a parent, discovering that your child has a drug or alcohol problem is a hard reality to face. Parents will often question their role in the matter, blaming themselves for their past parenting decisions. Just like children, parents can feel guilty for the addiction itself.

Teens: Damaging Effects at a Pivotal Moment

When a teenager struggles with substance abuse, the issue may be exacerbated by their young age. There’s more risk because the teenager’s brain is not fully developed yet, and they should still have a long, happy life ahead. But addiction can cause damaging mental problems, physical dependencies, and even has the potential to cut a life short. 

If you fear that your child may be addicted to drugs, it’s critical to intervene before the grip of addiction becomes too strong to wrangle them loose.

Here are some shocking facts about the effects of addiction on family members by teenagers:

●  Seventy-five percent of high school students have tried an addictive substance before, and one out of five of those students could qualify as addicted.

●   Nine out of 10 addicted American adults began their behaviors before they turned 18.

●   Forty-six percent of high school-aged kids are currently using an addictive substance.

●   Over forty percent of all current 10th graders drink alcohol.

One advantage of dealing with an adolescent with a substance abuse problem is that, as a parent, you have some control over their finances and what happens in the household. Parents will often yield this power to convince their children to seek out treatment programs.

Adult Children with an Addiction: Loss of Power

However, when a parent is dealing with their grown up child’s affliction, they have little control over the situation. The power to impose consequences is greatly diminished, and much is dependent on the addicted individual’s own choices. When the adult child lives outside of the parent’s household, there’s even less power.

Burden on Grandparents

The effects of drug addiction on family members also extends past parents into the territory of grandparents. Between the years 2000 and 2010, the number of American kids being raised by grandparents more than doubled. 

The two main reasons for this shift are: 

  • A rise in both addiction
  • Mental health issues

An addict with young children may see their parents move in or move the children out to pick up the slack of raising them.

Effects on Family Relationships

Addiction impacts the whole family, not just one person. Individuals with addiction issues believe they are only impacting their own lives and cannot see the outside effects of their actions. That is why many loved ones end up in family therapy.

Everyone in a family plays a role, whether they realize it or not. This role, whatever it may be, helps to maintain balance within the family. One person might be the lighthearted joke-maker while the other keeps order among the chaos, and so on. 

These familiar roles can shift when there is someone in the family with a drug use problem. Not only does the family lose an important familial role that person once played, but they also will need to shift the dynamic to make up for it.

As family roles adjust, they tend to fall into six different roles. These six roles around addiction can help a family understand the ecosystem around the addicted person and how they can each help them find sobriety through a treatment center.

Family Roles in Addiction

Below are summaries of each of the six primary family roles in addiction. This may help you identify your own role or make sense of your whole family dynamic when a loved one is addicted to drugs.

● Enabler – The enabler role is usually assumed by an older child or spouse. This person will take care of what the addicted person leaves undone, including finances, childcare, and making excuses on behalf of the person in business and social situations. The enabler is likely to deny the reality of drug use and will keep making excuses for them rather than urging them to treat their substance abuse problem.

● Hero – The hero is often an overachiever in the family – perhaps an older child. This person is serious and confident, taking on responsibilities beyond their means. They will assume a parental role and aim for perfection, an unrealistic expectation that will get increasingly difficult as the addiction gets worse.

● Scapegoat – The scapegoat is a younger child or someone who is known for misbehaving and defying authority. If they’re in school, they might frequent the principal’s office. As they get older, they may run into legal or criminal problems. The scapegoat’s behavior is a reflection of the toxic and chaotic environment produced by drug abuse.

● Mascot – A mascot is someone who tries to make light out of an uncomfortable or unhealthy home environment. The mascot uses humor as a method of coping and knows that their jokes can offer a few seconds of relief to the struggling family they love. The mascot will continue this pattern of behavior to distract themselves from the severity of the situation.

● Lost Child – A lost child becomes isolated from the rest of the group and may have trouble forging strong relationships. They may struggle in social environments and turn to imaginary play as a distraction from their home environment.

● Addicted Individual – Lastly, there is always the person with the addiction. This person may often feel remorse, guilt, or shame about the distress and pain they’ve brought upon their families. On the other hand, some feel no remorse or have no desire to cease their drug use. This can build upon the resentment already present among other family members, making relationships even more strained.

Family Signs There’s An Addiction Problem

There are ways you can gauge your family situation to determine if there may be an addiction issue present. These signs are not always correct, but they may signal that something is off, leading to a closer look into the family dynamic.

Losing Relationships

A critical sign of substance abuse problems is someone separating themselves from their entire family and friends. In addition to losing these relationships, the person with the addiction may also begin to lose interest in hobbies, events, and activities that they once loved. 

These signs of withdrawal can all point to a serious issue with drugs or alcohol: 

  • Repeated excuses
  • Canceling plans 
  • Entirely new friend groups

Emotional Turmoil

Addiction also perpetuates negative mindsets and emotional turmoil in friends and family. A spouse may feel guilty, a child may feel the need to pick up the slack, parents may feel abandoned, and the list goes on.

Addiction fosters severe mistrust since many people with an addiction lie about their habits and whereabouts to their closest loved ones. Family and friends will begin to question everything that the person says.

A spouse may also go through stages of grief as they mourn the loss of the partner they once had and adjust to life with someone with an addiction.

Family members surrounding the individual can suffer from depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues as a result of the heavy emotional toll that addiction takes.

Need for a Caretaker

When there’s someone suffering with an addiction, there must also be a caretaker. Whether the caretaker is weaning them through detox, taking on all of their responsibilities to keep the household running smoothly, or helping them through other illnesses brought on by addiction doesn’t matter. 

Caretaking in any capacity becomes a burden on the caretaker when they must balance it in addition to all of their other responsibilities. Eventually, the caretaker may develop mental health problems or suffer from burnout.

The caretaker can shift into a codependent role if their own needs are put on the backburner to support the individual who is suffering.

Shifting Family Dynamics

The presence of addiction can change your family dynamic in negative ways. Some people will become enablers; others will serve as the hero, and so on. 

Family members can fall into these roles unwittingly without understanding how it may actually be exacerbating the problem. While these roles only come about because of the addiction, the family members can actively try to un-do the roles to help their loved one find treatment.

Isolation From Loved Ones

We’ve already covered lost relationships as a sign of addiction, but what about becoming isolated? Enablers may make up excuses on their behalf or create a barrier between them and the rest of the family. This, in turn, isolates the enabler. Without additional family support, it can be hard to go from enabling them to helping them find treatment programs.

Financial Troubles

Financial instability is a common effect of drug addiction since drug or alcohol abuse requires a large financial investment. When the addicted person is compulsively using, they may use money intended on other things to get their fix or even start hiding money for illicit use. 

Eventually, their bad behavior can lead to job loss, making their financial instability even more severe. With no income and a growing addiction, important bills may go unpaid. Then, they may seek out money from family members.

Get Help When a Drug Addiction Affects Family Members

It’s a rare occurrence when someone’s addiction negatively impacts them and only them. Typically, drug addiction causes adverse effects on the lives and well being of spouses, children, parents, and extended family members.

Non-addicted family members also play a critical role in getting addicted individuals the treatment and care they need to find sobriety. With their awareness of the situation and their dedication to a long-term solution to the issue of addiction, they can convince them to finally get the help they need.

If someone you love is in this unfortunate position, don’t feel helpless. There’s always something you can do to encourage them towards sobriety. Sometimes, this is individual or family therapy.
To learn more, contact one of our experts at the Master Center for Addiction Medicine. We understand the effects of drug addiction on family members, and we can help the addicted person you know get on track towards recovery with a program that’s right for them.