Impact of Substance Use Disorders on Families and Children

Learn about the link between drug addiction and families and how you can best advocate for proper treatment opportunities.

What is Addiction in the Family?

Substance abuse disorders don’t only affect the substance abuser. Unfortunately, the adverse effects of drug addiction on family members can often cause as much devastation as it does to the user.

Parents addicted to drugs are often the primary cause of substance abuse in families. Parental substance abuse statistics are incredibly high and continue to rise each year.
Drug Addiction and Families


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What Impact Does Parent Addiction Have on Families?

Parents suffering from addiction can be extremely dangerous to the rest of the family, particularly for children. If one or both parents have a substance abuse disorder, this often prevents them from caring for and providing for their children in multiple ways.

What Impact Does Adolescent Addiction Have on Families?

On the other hand, in families where children are the ones with the substance abuse disorder, parents often don’t know how to adequately help or support their children. This form of family addiction is highly concerning for other reasons as well, as the long-term effects of drugs are profoundly adverse for developing children.

Substance abuse in families is prevalent across all demographic groups, and the social effects of drug abuse and addiction on family members can be devastating.

How Does Addiction Develop?

Physical addiction occurs when repeated drug use changes the way the brain feels pleasure. The drug can also cause physical changes to some nerve cells, called neurons, in the brain. Neurons use chemicals called neurotransmitters to communicate, which can be damaged by repeated drug use. These changes can remain long after one stops using the drug.

Risk Factors of Addiction Development

People of any age, sex, or economic status can become addicted to a drug. In addition, certain factors can affect the likelihood and speed of developing an addiction:
  • Family history: When it comes to drug addiction and families, drug abuse is more common in some families and likely involves genetic predisposition. If you have a blood relative, such as a parent or sibling, with alcohol or drug addiction, you have a greater risk of developing a drug addiction.
  • Lack of family involvement: Difficult family situations or the absence of a bond with parents or siblings may increase the risk of addiction, as can the lack of parental supervision.
  • Early use: Using drugs at an early age can cause changes in the developing brain and increase the likelihood of progressing to drug addiction. 1

The Impact of Drug Addiction on a Family

The entire family unit can feel the effects of a substance use disorder (SUD). The family systems theory and attachment theory are theoretical models that provide a framework for understanding how SUDs impact families. In addition, understanding the current developmental stage a family is in helps inform the assessment of impairment and determination of appropriate interventions.
SUDs negatively affect emotional and behavioral patterns from the family’s inception, resulting in poor outcomes for the children and adults with SUDs. Social workers, rehabs, and clinical intervention can help address family SUDs in multiple ways. 2

Signs of Addiction

When it comes to drug addiction and families, family members should lookout for the following signs if they suspect someone may be struggling with a substance abuse disorder:
  • Lack of control or inability to stay away from a specific substance
  • Decreased socialization, like abandoning commitments, friends, or ignoring relationships
  • Ignoring risk factors, like sharing needles despite potential consequences
  • Physical effects, like withdrawal symptoms or needing a higher dosage for effect

Physical Indicators of Addiction

Physical effects tend to be the easiest to notice for many family members, as many of the effects and signs become apparent rather quickly and can showcase unusual behavior for the user, as addiction tends to alter how the brain works. Some other physical signs of addiction can be seen below:
  • Unwanted weight loss or gain
  • Facial flushing
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Unjustified outbursts of anger
  • Confusion
  • Unexplained memory loss
  • Neglect of favorite home or school activities 3

Six Family Roles in Addiction

Addictive behaviors are more prevalent among some families in various forms. There are multiple factors and forces associated with the family in the initiation, maintenance, and recovery of addictive disorders.
Poor parenting skills, structural and relationship issues, lack of support, different sociocultural frameworks, and a family’s socioeconomic status may play different roles and effect families in varying ways for various aspects of addictive disorders. 4

Roles of Family

There are generally six roles that family members play when it comes to addiction in the family.
  • The Addict: The family member that suffers from a substance abuse disorder.
  • The Caretaker: The family member that helps the addict the most, either physically, emotionally, or mentally.
  • The Hero: A family member who sacrifices their own needs to assist drug-addicted family members.
  • The Scapegoat: The family member that is blamed for most all the problems. Most of the time, this can also be the drug-addicted family member.
  • The Mascot: The family member that is always trying to keep things light and help out. Despite a positive outward demeanor, this is often a disguise for deeper issues or troubles relating to substance abuse.
  • The Lost Child: The family member that doesn’t seem to fit in and feels isolated. They tend to be prime candidates for potentially seeking solace in addictive substances.

The Consequences of Substance Abuse in Families

It is estimated that more than eight million children younger than age eighteen live with at least one adult who has a SUD, and the majority of these children are younger than five years old.
The studies of families with SUDs reveal patterns that significantly influence child development and the likelihood that a child will struggle with emotional, behavioral, or substance use problems later on in life themselves.
The negative impacts of parental SUDs on the family include a disruption to attachment, rituals, roles, routines, communication, social life, and finances. In addition, families with a parental SUD are characterized by an environment of secrecy, loss, conflict, violence, abuse, emotional chaos, and fear. It also can result in role reversal, where the child has to help act like the adult or parent in order to make sure things get done.

Severe Consequences of Substance Abuse Within Families

Some of the most severe consequences of substance abuse in families include:
  • Negative impact on children
  • Loss of trust in the family
  • Increased stress in the family
  • Financial problems
  • Physical and emotional abuse
  • Fear and confusion 5

Finding Help for Families Struggling with Addiction

Finding Help for Families Struggling with Addiction
Fortunately, there are many avenues for families to take in order to help addiction.

Individual Therapy

This is where one-on-one counseling attempts to treat the family member’s addiction by using a variety of therapeutic measures and interventions. This therapy can range from talk therapy to more intensive inpatient treatment along with medication.

Family Counseling

Family counseling involves either all or some of the family members affected. In addition, therapy group sessions attempt to find the reasons for the addiction and heal the damage caused by substance abuse.

Al-Anon Family Groups

Al-Anon Family Groups, founded in 1951, is a global organization that offers recovery programs for the families and friends of alcoholics, whether or not the alcoholic recognizes a drinking problem or seeks help. In addition, there is an Al-Anon teen program, Alateen, that is designed for younger family members and friends who may be affected by alcoholism in the family. 6


Detoxification is ridding the body of all substances of dependence in a way that will not hinder the body’s physiology. 7

Inpatient/Residential Treatment

Inpatient or residential treatment refers to rehabilitation addiction treatment that temporarily requires a patient to reside in a live-in treatment facility.

Find Family Addiction Treatment at Concise Recovery

Concise Recovery Center provides premier addiction detox and recovery treatments from our San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles locations. Our credentialed staff is equipped to handle even the most complex cases, with expertise in addictions from alcohol to benzodiazepines.

We focus on a combination of holistic and therapeutic services that treat the whole patient and ease the transition from addiction to sobriety. Offering both detoxification and addiction treatment services ensures improved outcomes and minimal stress as you or a loved one move through the recovery process.

We can help families struggling with drug or substance addictions. Please contact us today for assistance with your or a family member’s substance abuse problem. 8