Addiction is a Family Disease. Period.

Addiction is a chronic disease with biological, psychological, social, and spiritual manifestations that affects the entire family.  All of us make choices about whether or not to drink alcohol or use drugs, but no one can choose how their brain & body respond to these substances.  Although some of us can control our drinking or drug use without problems, others cannot.  That is, while the first drink (or use of drugs) may be a choice, once the parts of the brain involved in reward, motivation, and memory have been changed by addiction, most experts believe that the person loses control over their behavior and no longer has the choice to stop using.

Addiction impacts the stability of the home as well as the family's unity, mental health, physical health, finances, and overall family dynamics.  Living with a loved one struggling with addiction can put family members under an extraordinary amount of stress.  Normal routines are constantly being interrupted by unexpected or even frightening experiences that are part of living with alcohol and drug use.

Both the individual with the addiction as well as family members may bend, manipulate, and deny reality in an attempt to maintain a family order that they experience as gradually slipping away.  The entire system becomes absorbed by a problem that is slowly spiraling out of control. Without help, active addiction can totally disrupt family life and cause harmful effects that can last a lifetime.

When your child, spouse, or loved one is struggling with addiction, it can be overwhelming and put a strain on your family’s strength and hope.  Friends and family members of individuals with a drug or alcohol use disorder often feel confused, frustrated, angry, and helpless.  That is why it is equally important for family members to appreciate the value of self-care and learn ways to care for themselves.

Support groups such as Al-Anon and Nar-Anon are available for the friends and family of people suffering from addiction (alcohol and drugs, respectively). While these support services are important for making connections with others who may be trying to navigate day-to-day life with addiction in the family, so is seeking professional therapy.  Individual therapy for each family member—not just the individual with the addiction—is important for the mental health of the entire family. Meeting regularly with a therapist as a family can help improve communication among family members, re-balance the family dynamic, and give family members a safe environment to express their anger, fear, and any other concerns they may be experiencing as a result of living with someone struggling with addiction.

Healthy Ways to Support Yourself

  • Take care of yourself.  Living with an individual who has an addiction can be exhausting at times. You also need time to recover.
  • Avoid self-blame.  You can’t control another person’s decisions and actions, and you can’t force them to change. Understand that there is only so much you can do to encourage change in another person.
  • Be realistic.  Do not work harder than the person you’re trying to help.
  • Set boundaries.  Being a caretaker is not good for you or your loved one with the addiction.
  • Avoid arguing.  Do not argue or try to discuss things with your loved one when they are under the influence. It won’t get you anywhere.​
  • Be positive.  If at all possible, try not to be negative when dealing with your loved one. That may only increase their feelings of guilt and push them further into using drugs or drinking alcohol.
  • Ask for help.  Talk to a professional. Go to a support group designed specifically for family members and friends of individuals suffering from addiction.

Support Services for Family & Friends Facing Addiction:

Sources: Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation; National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.

Resources for Family & Friends Facing Addiction

Please note: These links and resources are provided for informational purposes only. PRO Health Group does not, by way of its links to external sites, endorse, adopt, recommend, promote, or support all products, services, positions, opinions, or statements made or taken by the organizations. PRO Health Group bears no responsibility for the accuracy, legality, or content of the listed external sites or for that of subsequent links.