What Are The Impacts of Substance Use on Family?

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What Are The Impacts of Substance Use on Family?

When one person uses substances, the focus is typically on them and getting them help. How often does anyone look around that person to assess the needs of their family? Substance use impacts more than just the person who becomes addicted; it impacts everyone around them, especially their family members. Healing is needed not only for the person with the substance use disorder (SUD) but also for every member of their family.

Physical Consequences of Substance Abuse on Family Members

Perhaps the most blatantly obvious consequences of substance abuse within the family are the financial and property losses associated with it. Lending money to or even having money stolen by a family member in active substance use is the most commonly occurring consequence, with those debts often going unpaid.

Other consequences include property damage, such as destroying a car or a home that was borrowed with or without permission and damaged while under the influence. The list of property that could be lost, stolen, or damaged by a family member due to substance use is limitless. Often, the family member will use resources like this to pay for their substances. Family members may willingly give money or goods whether or not they are aware of the substance use because they believe they are helping their family member or because they are codependent.

Another physical consequence of substance use is actual physical or sexual abuse that occurs when the family member is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. As with other physical consequences, this creates obvious legal issues, serious emotional damage as well as an immediate concern for the safety and well-being of family members.

How Family Members Can Be Impacted Emotionally

As much physical damage as is possible from substance abuse within the family, the emotional damage is usually far more impactful. Trust is shattered. Hearts are broken. Relationships are damaged, sometimes irreparably. Those are just the quick-glance views on the surface of the emotional impact.

The trauma that can occur as a result of chronic substance abuse within the family can cause dysfunction and communication issues, as well as emotional or other types of abuse, individual depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD,) eating disorders, and more substance abuse within the family.

The Impact of Substance Use on Children

Children, in particular, are sensitive to the effects of substance abuse, often being neglected or subjected to emotional, physical, or sexual abuse at the hands of substance-abusing parents. They may also struggle with attachment, which puts them at risk of developing relationships throughout their lives. Children in families with substance use often struggle in school and have higher rates of mental and physical health issues.

Substance use of parents often puts children in the position of parentification, or role reversal, where they are forced to take care of their parents and/or their siblings at a very young age. Having these responsibilities placed upon them so young puts them at risk for many mental and physical health problems throughout their lives. Often, substance use of the parents can lead to the temporary or permanent loss of custody of the children.

The Bidirectional Effects of Substance Use in Families

Substance use often has a bidirectional effect within families. Whether the cause is genetics, environmental, or both, substance use often begets substance use. Despite not wanting to become your parents or that thing you hate most about your family member, the dysfunctional dynamics that are created within the family by the substance use itself often create more substance use.

Seeking Individual and Familial Healing for Others’ Substance Use

Even in families where only one person is using substances, healing as individuals and as a family is equally important to the treatment of the addiction itself. Each family member needs to take time to identify how they were harmed and address their healing through individual therapy. They will also need to identify and acknowledge their role in the family and take responsibility for words or actions that contributed to or enabled substance use.

The person with SUD will also be doing their work to make amends to each family member and will want to heal relationships with each individual and as a family as a part of their recovery. As a part of the healing process, however, the family will want to address their healing as a whole through the therapeutic process. Family therapy is highly recommended as part of the healing process to address family dynamics both before, during, and after substance use.