How Addiction Affects the Whole Family

What Is Addiction? Insights From The Experts

How Addiction Affects the Whole Family

Addiction (or its current term of substance use disorder) is a personal journey. A person takes the path of drug use for his own reasons and by following his personal risk factors. Even if his path of addiction follows the same path of others, he will be dealing with his own struggles, symptoms and scenarios.

That’s why effective addiction treatment needs to address the needs of each individual – because not all paths of addiction look exactly the same, and people have different needs to address to become sober.
But even though this struggle is part of an individual’s journey, an addicted person can’t say that she’s only hurting herself. Instead, the effects of the addiction are reverberating throughout the person’s family, whether that includes parents, siblings, a spouse and/or children. That’s why addiction is called “a family disease.” Everyone faces some effects of this problem.

Here are two significant ways addiction affects family members:

Creating an Unstable Home Life

Addiction creates instability within the home and within the family unit. Instead of feeling safe and comfortable at home, the family members of an addicted person can feel uncertain, anxious and scared. They might be walking on eggshells waiting until anger strikes, witness arguing or take part in the arguing, and face the brunt of emotional and/or physical abuse.

Family members can deal with an unhealthy environment that includes hiding habits, manipulation and other tactics from the addicted person. [In the United States] The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, or NCADD, notes that family members tend to notice that the person’s actions don’t fit her words.

The family can have to deal with mental and physical health problems associated with the addiction. In addition, the NCADD explains that everyday routines are often thrown off by addiction. It can be hard to count on the addicted person, which creates a rift in the relationship and the loved ones’ well-being.

The home life can also be financially unstable because of the addiction. Income might go toward the substance use rather than enough food and other necessities. There might be worries about paying the bills and keeping the home. The addicted person may even lose his job because of the addiction and fail to contribute financially to the family, yet continue to add the burden of needing money for the substance.

The family can be put into a lot of tough situations that they wouldn’t have been in without the addiction. Family members become affected by legal troubles and financial troubles. They might have to worry when their loved one doesn’t show up at home all night, face the consequences of reckless behavior and have to deal with their loved one’s declining health.
These kinds of experiences create an unstable home environment that affects the family members’ mental health and ability to cope with life. And even though addiction involves the family members’ personal life, the effects extend beyond that.

The problems caused by the addiction can affect children’s school performance and adults’ work performance. Spouses and parents may have to work harder to make up for financial problems, and children may exhibit behavioral problems. Loved ones may give up personal interests and friendships to focus on the home life and hide the problem. These are just some examples of how the effects of addiction can work their way into different aspects of the loved ones’ lives.

Developing Unhealthy Ways of Coping

Especially when the individuals are stuck in a house with someone who’s addicted, family members often develop unhealthy ways of dealing with the situation. They often try to hide the substance use from outsiders and they may be ashamed of the person.

Family members often enable the person by providing money, buying the substances or offering support in other ways. In addition, family members often become codependent on the addicted person. David Sack, M.D., provided warning signs of this in an article for PsychCentral.

These signs include putting the addicted person’s feelings first and the loved one making herself responsible for the life of the addicted person. In addition, the codependent person can have trouble with personal boundaries, have his own emotions and decisions follow those of the addicted person and follow unhealthy practices, such as giving up his own interests or friendships, to keep the relationship.

Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT, explained in an article for PsychCentral that codependency (and addiction as well) can lead to ongoing shame that creates a sense that, “You’re ashamed of who you are. You don’t believe that you matter or are worthy of love, respect, success or happiness.”


Hopefully, the person with the substance problem will eventually get help to change his own life and improve the entire family. Family members can help the person seek treatment and go through the treatment and recovery process.

When the addicted person does enter a treatment program, the family can often take part in their loved one’s program through family therapy. This type of therapy helps to heal the entire family unit and get it working on the same page toward a healthier future together.

If the program does not offer family therapy, families could find a separate mental health or addiction professional who could offer this type of therapy to the group. Each person could also receive individual counseling if needed.

In addition, family members can take part in supportive groups available to them. These include Adult Children of Alcoholics, Al-Anon and others. These groups give loved ones a space to work on themselves and how the family addiction affected their lives.

Overall, addiction doesn’t just affect the addicted person. It affects everyone who is close to that person. Yet there is hope for the addicted individual to recover, and there is hope for the whole family.



Authors’ Bio


Dr. Dina Macaluso’s journey toward a career in psychology began in 1990. Since then, she has dedicated her life to helping people recover from addiction and mental health issues. Dr. Macaluso holds a doctorate degree in psychology, a master’s degree in sociology and marriage and family therapy, and a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She is licensed in the state of Florida as a mental health counselor. Additionally, Dr. Macaluso is working on her certification as an addiction counselor. She currently is the Clinical Director at Lumiere Healing Centers Florida Location.

Did you know that the brain can heal itself?

Not only can the brain heal itself, it can do a pretty good job at it too! That is of course once it is provided with the right materials and time to heal. Dr. Constance Scharff in Psychology Today highlights how it was once considered a fact, that the once the brain was damaged, it could not be repaired. However, breakthroughs in neuroscientific research have proven that this is in fact, not true.

Though individual neurons might be damaged beyond repair, the brain attempts to heal itself when damaged by making new connections or new neural pathways as work-arounds for the damage. This is called neuroplasticity,  neuro (brain/nerve/neuron) and plasticity (moldability).

Based on the latest neuroscientific research Dr. Scharff argues that abstinence is the best choice for recovery because the old neuropathways, the old links between addiction and pleasure are still there… It doesn’t take much to jump start the old habit.

The brain gets trained to do a particular behavior – use drugs or alcohol or gambling – eventually to the exclusion of all else.  BUT, in treatment, we can retrain the brain, that is develop a new pathway that supports recovery. With intensive[…] interventions, we strengthen the new “recovery” loop within the brain. The brain then learns to enjoy recovery, those things that give us pleasure in our sober lives – family, work, interpersonal interactions. We retrain the brain and thus change our lives.

Alta Mira has produced a very informative infographic detailing neuroplasticity in terms of addiction and recovery.

Rewiring the Brain Infographic
Rewiring the Brain Infographic