Why Is Addiction A Family Disease?

A family man teaching his son how to ride a bike.

Why Is Addiction A Family Disease?

Addiction can be extremely difficult to live with if left untreated. It not only affects the individual who is facing problems with substance use, but their addictive behaviors can affect their loved ones too. Therefore, addiction can be a family disease. In some cases, a dual diagnosis can be even more problematic for everyone involved. A dual diagnosis can be defined as having both substance use disorder (SUD) and a co-occurring mental health condition. Although the negative effects of substance dependency can impair many aspects of one’s life, surrendering to family therapy can help individuals work together to overcome addiction as a whole.

Why Addiction Is a Family Disease: Negative Effects of Addiction

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), there are many risks to an individual’s mental and physical quality of health. For example, an individual is at an increased risk of developing cancer, having a stroke, contracting Hepatitis A and C, or becoming infected with HIV/AIDS. Addiction can negatively impair an individual’s ability to keep long-term relationships, effectively function in their workplace, or maintain academic progress for a successful future. This can be due to gradual alterations to an individual’s brain structure from chronic substance use and mental illness. Further symptoms related to substance abuse include: 

  • Increased tolerance
  • Loss of energy and motivation
  • Spending excess money on drugs and alcohol
  • Prioritizing drugs and alcohol
  • Engaging in risky behavior while intoxicated
  • Stealing drugs or items to sell for drugs
  • Lying about using drugs or alcohol
  • Neglecting one’s appearance or care for others
  • Social problems


Why Addiction Is a Family Disease: Everyone Suffers

When an individual is facing problems with addiction, close loved ones begin to suffer the symptoms above with them. Based on a journal by Social Work in Public Health, the effects of SUD can be felt by everyone involved in the home environment leading to family disease. The family is the main component of nurturing, attachment, and socialization for those in our current society. Thus, the negative impact of addiction on families merits attention.

Children are at an increased risk of having developmental disabilities due to neglect. They may experience impaired attachment as well. The family may incur economic hardship, emotional distress, legal issues, and in some cases violence. Children are also at an increased risk of developing a problem with addiction themselves due to ongoing environmental exposure. Family members may develop depression, anxiety, or mood disorders related to the effects of their loved ones’ addiction. 

Watching a loved one struggle with the stages of addiction can weigh intensely on a family member. They may become helpless or sometimes start to feel responsible for their actions. Family members may begin to blame themselves which can often lead to extreme feelings of regret and guilt. 

Why Addiction Is a Family Disease: Value of Family Therapy

Although addiction can severely impact an individual’s family dynamics, exploring different programs can significantly improve everyone’s well-being. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), anyone within one’s family can participate in family therapy. Two or more participants can attend a therapy session together to learn new strategies that can promote better communication. Family therapy can target different objectives for a more comfortable environment and better relationships. Different objectives may consist of: 

  • Reconciliation
  • Strength
  • Forgiveness
  • Understanding
  • Support
  • Hope 
  • Peace
  • Resolution 
  • Agreement


When Family Members Do Not Participate

Sometimes it is common for some family members to not get involved. This can be due to several different reasons. Perhaps they have participated in other forms of care but did not find success. Therefore, they stopped putting effort in as it may have been perceived as a waste of time. Unfortunately, this can leave one feeling fatigued. It is also common for one to not participate due to fear of the unknown. Perhaps they may worry about being taken advantage of as they may have been treated poorly in the past. Sometimes it is common for a family member to avoid therapy out of concern for judgment or further conflict. 

Alternative Forms of Care to Explore

Although some family members may feel hesitant to move forward with family programs for various reasons, exploring alternative forms of care may persuade one to move forward with treatment. Taking time to understand the advantages of family therapy may give light encouragement to continue to provide support and put effort toward the health of their family. Various programs can help family members gain the strength needed to move forward. For example, an individual may enjoy participating in family therapy with a pet. Animal-assisted therapy may help those who have anxiety feel comfortable enough to engage in conversation and participate in each session. It can be a complementary form of treatment with other types of care. Alternative aftercare services may include: 

  • Family therapy
  • Trauma-informed care
  • Sober living 
  • Relapse prevention