How Addiction Affects the Family Unit

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Addiction never affects just the addict. It impacts the entire family unit, just as any chronic disease would. Unfortunately, addiction is usually more damaging because of the toxic behaviors that addicts exhibit as they lose control of their actions. Addicts often lie and steal to get what they want, and this damages relationships with loved ones. Even as addicts recover from their addiction, it takes time to learn how to build honest, trustworthy relationships.

It’s important for the friends and family of addicts to understand how addiction affects the family unit. It’s hard not to take things personally or to want to give up hope on helping an addict. It’s also hard to trust the addict, even as they work through recovery. All of these feelings are normal, and knowing that this conflict and trauma can be worked through over time is comforting in the least.

Financial Issues

Money is almost always a factor in addiction. The habit costs money – sometimes hundreds or thousands can be spent on a binge – and as the addict builds up more tolerance, more money is being spent on the drug. There are different financial issues that can occur. For instance, a husband and wife may fight over how much money is going toward the habit, while a parent of a teen may be wondering where the money is coming from. This is where lying and stealing come into the picture. In order for the addict to have money to spend on their habit, they steal it from loved ones and lie about where it’s coming from.

In the beginning stages of addiction, it’s possible that the addict may have a steady job and income. Yet as the addiction begins to take more control, the person’s performance at work will decrease and this may challenge their job stability and income. This is also a major source of financial stress, as it forces the family to have to support each other.

Trust Issues

When an addict lives in the home, the environment is never a happy place. It becomes hostile and angry, and that’s because there is little trust between the addict and their family and vice versa. Children are greatly affected by this, and they may begin to lack respect for their parents. Addiction places stress on a marriage as well, and if this union doesn’t work out, the addict may return home to live with their parents, creating stress on this family unit.

Furthermore, when things go missing or something isn’t taken care of (i.e., the kids are not picked up from school on time, the bills were paid late), it further strains the level of trust in the family. To make matters worse, since the addict is often living their life impaired, they don’t make the best choices. This can lead to lying, cheating on their spouse or stealing from loved ones. While some relationships can be repaired over time, others can’t be.

Mental and Physical Health Issues

There is a strong correlation between mental health and addiction. It’s still unclear what comes first – the addiction or the mental disorder – but we know that many addicts also suffer from some type of cognitive disorder such as depression or anxiety. When living with an addict, loved ones are not only dealing with the addiction but possibly also a mental health condition that is not being treated.

Addiction also places a toll on health in general. Babies born to addicts have a greater chance of having Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or other behavioral and cognitive disabilities, and addicts develop poor health over time. They may undernourished, sleep deprived and engaging in harmful behaviors like having unprotected sex or sharing needles.

Abuse and Neglect

As an addiction takes more control over the addict, that person may start acting out in ways they would have never thought. Addiction can make a calm and confident person angry and unpredictable. Spousal and partner abuse can emerge over a fight about money or the kids, and this can devastate a union. It can also lead an addict to make poor choices, such as by being sexually involved with someone else, spreading the risk of sexually transmitted diseases.

Children may also develop long-term emotional and psychological damage if they are verbally or physically abused and neglected. In fact, government studies show that 50 to 80 percent of child abuse and neglect cases involve one or more parents being addicted to drugs and alcohol. Also, 75 percent of domestic abuse cases involve drugs or alcohol.

Addiction changes a person, plain and simple. Unfortunately, this change is never a good thing, and it affects everyone in the family unit. That’s why family therapy is an important part of treatment, and support groups are available specifically for the family of addicts. By taking recovery seriously and working through the 12 Steps, addicts can learn how to develop strong, healthy relationships once again, hopefully strengthening the family unit.