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Is Addiction a Family Disease?

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Addiction is something that affects more than just the addict – it affects everyone around them . Whether addiction is your family member’s or your own problem, it’s important to understand how it affects the whole family. Here’s why addiction is a family disease, and how you can support addicted loved ones. 

How Addiction Affects Families

When addiction starts, it can be hard for family members to accept that their loved one is addicted. This is because addiction is a disease that’s shrouded in secrecy and stigma. 

Broken Relationships 

Addiction can cause a lot of broken trust between family members, since there is often a lot of lying and manipulation that occurs. 

Emotional Stress 

Family members can undergo a lot of stress when their loved one has an addiction. Addiction can create tension and conflict within the family. When one member is struggling with an addiction, the whole family may feel tense and stressed. This tension often leads to arguments or disputes, as each person tries to take control of their own life while simultaneously supporting their addicted loved one.

Family members may lay awake at night wondering how they can help their loved one, and how this addiction is affecting their lives. 

woman stressed at laptop

Financial Stress

Addiction can be a financial burden for families. They may spend a lot of money bailing out their loved one from trouble, or funding their rehab treatment. Addicts will have a difficult time maintaining a job, and therefore may constantly be asking for money, food, or shelter. Family members may have to take time off of work in order to care for their addicted loved one. 

Higher Risk for Abuse 

Substance use can lead to an increase in aggressive behaviors, which means that family members are at risk of experiencing physical or verbal abuse from their addicted loved one. 

Effects of Addiction on Children 

Children from families where one or both parents struggled with drug or alcohol addiction are more likely to start using drugs earlier in life and to develop a drug addiction more quickly.

Parental addiction can affect a child’s development by disrupting important aspects of childhood such as attachment relationships, cognitive function, and academic achievement. 

Children who grow up with addicted parents often struggle with social skills and may also experience elevated levels of anxiety or depression. They are also more likely to engage in risky behaviors than kids without addicted parents.

As the children get older, they may take on a type of parental role which involves them taking care of their parent, rather than the other way around. 

child hiding from parents fighting due to alcohol problem

Family Roles in Addiction 

When one family member struggles with addiction, each family member copes with the addiction in their own way. These natural coping mechanisms tend to be unhealthy, and can create a dysfunctional family dynamic, also known as the family roles in addiction. 

The types of family roles in addiction are as follows: 

The Hero – “The Hero” family member will do everything in their power (even risk their own safety) in order to help their addicted loved one. 

The Enabler – “The Enabler” is someone who tries to be supportive of the addict, but their actions allow the addict to indulge in their addiction without facing any repercussions. This may be done by constantly making excuses on the addict’s behalf, always providing for them, and taking them back even when boundaries have been crossed. 

The Scapegoat “The Scapegoat” will wreak havoc for the sake of diverting attention away from the addict. They may get into trouble frequently, or act out aggressively.  

The Mascot “The Mascot” leans on humor as a coping mechanism for dealing with their family member’s addiction, and will try to make other family members happy. 

The Lost Child “The Lost Child” feels neglected or abandoned by the rest of the family, and may completely isolate themselves and struggle to form meaningful relationships. 

Remember, no one intentionally chooses to play one of these dysfunctional family roles, but it is important to be aware of these behaviors and how they can affect the rest of the family.

Is Addiction Genetic? 

Addiction may be a family disease, but does that mean that it’s genetic? Genetics do play some role in how likely someone is to develop an addiction disorder in the first place. However, addiction is much more influenced by a person’s environment and lifestyle. 

It is not uncommon for multiple members of one family to develop an addiction, because they have a lot of shared experiences and live in the same environment. For some who have an addicted family member, they might turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with the addiction in their family, and end up becoming addicted themselves.

Healing the Family Unit After an Addiction

It can be difficult to cope with the aftermath of addiction – both for the addict and their loved ones. Addiction is a powerful force, and it can take a lot of effort to overcome its effects. However, there are some simple ways to help heal the family after an addiction.



1. Set Realistic Expectations

Recovery takes time and effort, and there will likely be setbacks during the process. You should prepare yourself for the possibility that your loved one may not make complete recoveries right away.

Also remember that it will take time to rebuild trust that was lost. This doesn’t mean that you are never going to be able to have a healthy relationship with each other again – it just means that things will take longer than usual and may require more patience on both your part and theirs.

woman comforting daughter

2. Communicate 

Seek to understand how the addiction has affected each family member. Take the time to really listen so that each member feels heard and understood. Talking openly about how hard the situation has been can help everyone learn from their mistakes and move forward together stronger than ever before.



3. Focus on Yourself 

Each person involved must take responsibility for their own wellness. Take time for yourself, practice self-care, and set boundaries with family members in order to protect your mental health.



4. Seek Professional Help 

If you feel it would be helpful, attend counseling as a family. Another option is to attend individual counseling, where you can learn how to implement healthy coping mechanisms, and work through the difficult emotions that have arisen.



How to Support Family Members With Addiction 

Addicted loved ones go through a lot of changes while they’re in recovery. They may feel overwhelmed, lost, and scared. It’s important to be there for them throughout their recovery process. 

Encourage your loved one to get help for their addiction. If necessary, help them research recovery centers in your area that might be a good fit for what they need. 

Throughout this process, don’t neglect your own needs. Be extra intentional about practicing self-care and listening to your body when it tells you that you need a break. 

If you need support during this time, or want to discuss treatment options, speak to our addiction specialists at The PAC Program.