How Addiction Affects Family


Addiction and relationships

Many books have been written on how addiction affects family. Alcoholics Anonymous addressed the family problem in 1935 with a chapter called the Family Afterwards in AA’s main book which they refer to as The Big Book. In the 80s there was a co-dependency movement which addressed the significant others who develop destructive coping mechanisms when dealing with a loved one who’s an alcoholic. This expanded to cover relationships torn apart by addiction to other drugs. The specific addiction wasn’t important.

Before co-dependency became the popular term, the term used most often was enabler. The idea behind this originated from the behaviors of spouses of alcoholics. Often, the spouse of an alcoholic would cover for the destructive behavior of the alcoholic partner to, mostly, protect the reputation of the family. The dysfunctional relationship was usually presented as a wife covering for an alcoholic husband, but in reality the situation was often reversed and the husband was covering for an alcoholic wife, or both the wife and husband were covering for a son or daughter. Much of the enabling behavior was driven by shame and concern with what others would think.

As time grew on and more was learned about the psychology of enabling/co-dependency, more complex theories were developed to explain the behaviors of significant others who are enmeshed in dysfunctional relationships of all sorts.  In the field of addiction treatment, it’s still a problem when a family member, employer or good friend enables the addicted person to continue the destructive pattern of addiction. Tough love is still a healthy approach to the situation. The trick is to stay mentally, physically and emotional healthy while trying to deal with someone who’s addicted to alcohol or some other drug. Then there’s the sad part of addiction when a person has to end a relationship because it has become too toxic and the only way to stay sane is to separate from the addicted person.

We recommend that family members of the addicted person receive counseling or join a mutual aid group like Al-anon or Nar-anon. The family can get sick too when they live in a dysfunctional environment for a long period of time, and if the addicted person gets help and starts to recover it’s good if family members understand the process and deal with their own built up emotions.

Substance Abuse and Family

substance abuse and family

Family recovery

Substance abuse and addiction affect family members, so in order for recovery to be complete family members must be a part of recovery. In most situations in which a family member has a substance abuse problem, the family doesn’t understand why the person’s hurtful behavior. The loved one with the problem breaks promises to quit over and over, and this apparent dishonesty creates anger and confusion.

The family needs education and perhaps treatment just like the person with the substance abuse problem needs education and treatment. Once everyone in the family understands substance abuse and addiction, they can work together to manage recovery, because the family is, in a sense, recovering also. Sometimes with substance abuse the damage done to family relationships is not that great, so when the affected person changes and stops using drugs or drinking alcohol the family quickly pulls together and moves forward with even stronger relationships — however, in the case of long term addiction, great damage is often caused to family relationships, and much work is needed to repair relationships. Sometimes the damage is so great that relationships aren’t mended, and this is one of the saddest aspects of addiction. Knowing that people can change, it’s difficult for a therapist to see family’s torn completely apart — we know what can happen in recovery if everyone will just give it one more chance.

It’s understandable, though, that some family members damaged by the effects of addiction will cut off contact to protect themselves — sometimes it’s the only way for them to maintain their own mental and emotional health. But when possible, if the family will get involved, there’s a greater chance for recovery and drastic change.

This is from

It is critical that the entire family be involved in the treatment as well as the recovery process. To do this, the family will need to learn the best ways to support the recovering individual once the treatment program has finished. Many drug and alcohol treatment facilities provide education for family members on topics such as how addiction works and how to handle stress.

Click on the link — it goes on to present practical changes that can help the family pull together and manage the recovery process.