The Different Ways Addiction Affects Family

It is well known that addiction affects the whole family, but what does this mean – what does it look like? Addiction diminishes not only the life of the individual addicted but also their loved ones. Addiction can affect families emotionally, financially, legally, and medically. Due to the extent of repercussions families face as a result of addiction, many treatment providers stress the need to heal the entire family.

While there may be a stigma surrounding those struggling with addiction and their negative impact on society, it is essential to remember that addiction is a complicated disease that requires attention.

How Can Addiction Affect a Family?

While substance use disorder (SUD) directly affects the individual using, SUD also negatively affects the people involved, such as family and friends. Addiction can destroy peaceful, loving homes due to the conflict that can arise from a family’s attempt to engage with a family member who abuses drugs or alcohol. 

Relatives can become more guarded and even controlling towards the person abusing substances. As a result, the individual struggling can react with aggression or fall deeper into using by hiding their addiction more carefully. Once this happens, relationships are damaged, and trust between family members diminishes. 

The Roles Family Members Take On

The shock of watching how a relative can completely change due to SUD can cause a tremendous amount of trauma to family members. As a result, family members often fall into one of five roles. These roles are used to cope with the stress of having a family member who is addicted to drugs or alcohol. Although these are coping mechanisms, these roles are unhealthy and can lead to more family dysfunction and resentment.

#1. The Caretaker

The caretaker often makes excuses or covers for the family member who is struggling with addiction. They may take on extra household responsibilities, do everything to “keep the peace,” and do what they can to make sure everyone else in the family is happy. The family member who takes on this role may find their purpose in enabling their loved one’s addiction, the hallmark of a codependent relationship.

#2. The Hero

The family’s hero is very similar to the caretaker but does enable behavior. Instead, the hero often will do what they can to ensure their family appears “normal.” They try to help maintain stability inside the home and keep up appearances in public. Common traits of the family hero include being self-sufficient, responsible, and a perfectionist. A family member who takes on the hero role most often does so in an attempt to mask the pain of having a loved one who struggles with addiction.

#3. The Scapegoat

The scapegoat of the family often harbors anger towards their situation. They may try to divert the family’s attention away from the person struggling with SUD by engaging in harmful behaviors that put the attention on them. 

#4. The Mascot

The mascot is the “comedian” of the family. They try to alleviate the chaos with humor. This role is often a distraction tactic; instead of focusing on the pain of having a loved one struggling with addiction, they focus on making other family members feel better. 

#5. The Lost Child

The lost child is often quiet in an attempt to stay out of the way and not add stress to the family. This family member tries to “blend into the background.”

The Effects of Addiction on Families

Not all families who have a member struggling with SUD will experience the same effects. Although, common outcomes families experience when a loved one is addicted to drugs or alcohol include:

  • Financial hardship
  • Increased risk of abuse
  • More addiction in the family
  • Broken families

Family Healing Is Possible

It can be challenging watching a family member struggle with addiction. Families who are affected by addiction often experience sadness, anger, grief, and more. While they may think that getting their family member into treatment is the one and only solution, getting an addicted family member help, such as through an intervention, is only the first step.

If a family member has decided to seek help for their addiction, other members can also do healing work. Someone who is struggling with SUD is not the only person who deserves to heal; every member of the family does. Luckily, there are many ways for each individual family member to cope with their feelings and for the entire family unit to heal as a whole.

Individual Therapy

Family members who are trying to cope with the stress of having a loved one who is struggling with SUD can engage in individual therapy. Even if no one else in the family wants to seek help, a family member can learn to cope with their feelings and the chaos of their home with therapy. Therapy can help family members overcome the harmful ways they have learned to cope with their loved one’s addiction.

Family Systems Theory 

Family therapy can help the entire family unit heal. Bringing everyone together allows a therapist to observe family dynamics in real-time and can help them develop the best course of action.

“Family systems theory is a theory of human behavior that defines the family unit as a complex social system, in which members interact to influence each other’s behavior. Family members interconnect, allowing to view the system as a whole rather than as individual elements.” 

Any change in an individual who is a part of a family is likely to influence the entire family system, which can lead to changes among other family members. Many interventions are designed to promote family engagement in therapy in order to help heal the family as a whole. 

Addiction impacts both the individual using substances and the family involved. Addiction is a disease that can slowly take hold of a family and alter or ruin relationships. Family members often take on one of five roles to help themselves and their families cope. Luckily, help is available to both the family and the family member struggling with addiction. At A New Hope Recovery Services, we can help your family find the help they need. We provide interventions, counseling, evaluations, and personalized case-management services supported by our team of licensed and accredited professionals. Whether or not we have provided your family member with an intervention, A New Hope Recovery can provide counseling to family members looking to heal. With A New Hope Recovery Services, you and your family are never alone. To learn more about our services and how we can help you, call us today at (407) 501-8490.