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Addiction, family dynamics, and how we can heal

By: Hannah Wilding



The effects of substance abuse on families, and on relationships as whole, vary greatly between types of people and families. As people abuse substances, more of their energy becomes dedicated to the attainment and usage of the substances, and less time is devoted to creating memories and bonds with people who care about them. Unsurprisingly, this struggle results in disconnectedness and absence among people who abuse substances and their family and friends. Because of the variety in composition of families in our modern society, the impacts of substance abuse on relationships varies greatly, but the impacts are most always detrimental. Importantly, there are methods to improve these relationships that have been damaged by addiction!

When parents misuse substances...

When one or both parents misuse substances, the family tends to operate in extremely unnatural and untraditional ways, and the family members typically bear individual burdens caused by the substance misuse. Many children whose parents misuse substances develop trust issues that propagate into their personal lives. These children may also carry guilt, believing that their parent’s addiction is their own fault, or have to take on unreasonable responsibilities at home. A parent’s addiction is also shown to have physical, behavioral, and cognitive effects on their children. These effects include the child being at risk for low birth weight, sexually transmitted diseases, delayed learning, and an inclination to develop their own substance-abuse issues. Spouses of individuals who misuse substances tend to bear the burden, taking on both parental roles, as well as feeling the need to protect the children. As an additional stressor, families with substance misuse will likely develop economic issues, since much of the income is spent on substances.

When siblings misuse substances...

Substance abuse is becoming an increasingly larger issue among adolescents, affecting their friendships and relationships, participation and performance in school, and future life goals, among other things. Common issues found among adolescent drug-users are violent behavior, psychiatric disorders, and neurological impairment, all of which also impact the family. Siblings of the person with a substance use disorder typically feel ignored and undervalued by their parents, since much of the parents’ time goes toward correcting and providing provision for the affected individual. Additionally, adolescents who use drugs tend to spend much of their time with other drug-users, causing unhealthy views of support and dependency, which also causes tension among familial relationships.

Addiction in  modern families...

Families are made in all shapes and sizes. Addiction may be especially prevalent in blended families, which are families consisting of a couple and their children from current and previous relationships. In blended families, there are often complicated family dynamics, vague rules, and a mix of parenting strategies, which may leads to confusion for the children. There tends to be a lack of communication and cooperation between the separated parents and their new partners, which only exacerbates the already present difficulties. Research has shown that children of blended families sometimes seek drugs as comfort or to cope with confusion within their families. Marijuana is one drug of abuse that is often used among adolescents in blended families, with greater levels of use leading to detachment from the family. Substance misuse among blended families unfortunately only exacerbates the difficulties in forming the new dynamic of a blended family.


Here are 2 key ways to improve family relationships damaged  by substance misuse:

  1. Family Therapy: Family therapy can be extremely effective in repairing familial bonds, most commonly within the immediate family, that have been damaged due to substance abuse. Family therapy seeks to utilize the present strengths and support of the family to replace the feeling of need to use the substance. It also helps families become more self-aware in making families acknowledge their weaknesses as well, and it encourages families to speak up about their needs of support as both individuals and a whole. In helping all family members become more understanding of the motivation for and factors affecting the person abusing substances, family therapy seeks to prevent substance use from becoming multi-generational through encouraging authentic and complete healing for families.

  2. Communication and Trust: Communication outside of family therapy is also very important for the complete healing of a family or relationship broken by addiction. It is important for individuals in recovery to speak up about the emotional support they need, so that their families can be there for them. Recovery is much more manageable when surrounded by people who are willing to help, but this help can only be given when individuals in recovery speak up and advocate for themselves, and then trust in their family and friends for help!

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