Ripple Effects of How Addiction Affects the Family

When you are caught in the grasp of a substance use disorder, it’s easy to think your choices and behaviors only affect you. In reality, it affects everyone you love in varying ways. Whether it is your best friend, parent, sibling, coworker, or significant other, they are all profoundly impacted. Here you’ll learn how addiction affects the family.

Family Roles

Your substance use disorder changes the roles each person in your life plays. Eventually, your loved ones fall into some typical roles around you. Roles include:

  • The Enabler: Enablers somehow help you maintain your substance use disorder. They may give you money, rides, or let you live with them and misuse alcohol or drugs in their home. Enablers mean well and are good people, but they do more harm than good. Enablers are often parents of an addict.
  • The Hero: Heros take on the parenting role when the natural parents are not doing it. Siblings are often in this role. They strive for perfection and want to fix everything, and because they are overachievers, they don’t give up.
  • The Scapegoat: Scapegoats are usually younger siblings who misbehave. Because so much attention is focused on your addiction, they have gone unnoticed. Now they seek attention even if it is through negative behaviors. Their chaotic behavior reflects the chaos going on in your home.
  • The Lost Child: Lost children are the ones who do whatever they can to escape the chaos, like video gaming in isolation every moment they can.

Substance use disorders cause specific problems between you and each family member, separate from their roles.

Spouses or Significant Others

Your romantic relationship was founded on love, but drug and alcohol misuse drive a wedge between you. Over time your relationship will be filled with poor communication, increased arguments, and a lack of intimacy.


When you have a substance use disorder, the drugs or alcohol take precedence over anything else, including your babies. The first few years of a child’s life are crucial for healthy development when they form bonds with you and learn to discern between good and bad. They need to feel safe emotionally and physically. Addiction prevents these from happening.

Preschool and Elementary Aged Children

Children need consistency and routine at the preschool age, and they must know they are safe and loved. Having a substance use disorder means you get irregular sleep, and your schedule revolves around your need to avoid withdrawal symptoms. Also, you will put your child in risky situations when seeking or buying substances.

For example, you may drink and drive, take your child to meet your dealer, or allow criminals, even sex offenders, to be around your child. Therefore, your child is left feeling disorganized and unsafe. If domestic violence occurs, your child could develop post-traumatic stress disorder. It is behaviors like this that lead to child protective services getting involved.

Teenagers and Young Adults

Watching you struggle with a substance use disorder creates emotional instability that leads to an inability to form healthy relationships. They may begin modeling your behavior, experimenting, or misusing drugs or alcohol. They may start hanging out with the wrong crowd, have mental health symptoms, become oppositional or rebellious, or get into trouble at school or legally.


Your parents are probably on two separate pages when dealing with your substance use disorder. One wants to show you tough love, and the other is stuck in an enabling role. Either way, your addiction creates significant problems in their relationship emotionally, financially, and physically. The same issues you have with your significant other, your parents experience also.


Friendships can fall into two categories when discussing substance use disorders. You have original friends you were friends with before you started misusing alcohol or drugs. These are usually lifelong childhood friends. Depending on how long you have been addicted, you may only have one original friend left, if any.

Another group of friends is your new substance-using friends. They are not true friends. The only thing you have in common is your addictions. You may think these friends are the ones who take care of you and have your back. They make sure you have drugs or alcohol when you need them. They are like enablers, doing more harm than good.

The Whole Group

There are a few ways addiction affects all your loved ones in the same way, including the examples below:

  • Addiction breaks trust. A substance use disorder makes you do things you wouldn’t normally do, like lying, cheating and stealing. Unfortunately, you do the most of these with the people you love the most. Over time, they cannot trust you no matter what you do or say. They don’t believe what you say, they protect valuables and money, and they have anxiety in anticipation of the next time you will betray them.
  • Codependency. Codependency often occurs in children with parents or spouses with substance use disorders. It is an unhealthy attachment resulting from low self-esteem, feeling unloved, and wanting to please you. They put their needs aside to make you happy, even if that means they will suffer consequences.

Financial troubles, broken relationships, children removed by child protective services, and emotional stress are other ways your loved ones suffer.

Getting Treatment for Your Family

Treatment specialists recognize the effect addiction can have on the whole family. They create substance abuse treatment programs for each individual and as a group. Family therapy is a vital part of recovery. The steps to getting help for you and your family include:

  • You enter treatment either on an inpatient or outpatient basis.
  • Your family enters therapy on an outpatient basis.

The good news is that you can start family healing today. All you have to do is call The Lakehouse and tell the support team you want help for you and your family. They will guide you the rest of the way, creating a treatment plan that works for everyone. It is not too late for your family.


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