Addiction in the Family Unit

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A Family Addiction – How Alcoholism and Drug Use Impacts Loved Ones

It is no surprise that addiction can cause major damage to the individual abusing alcohol and/or drugs. It can quickly go from innocent experimentation and fun with friends on the weekends, to something more consuming, chronic, and long term. Persistent abuse of drugs and alcohol slowly chips away at one’s emotional, spiritual, physical, and mental health, not to mention the impact that it may have on holding a job, financial stability, and other legal issues. 

Many believe that addiction is a personal experience, however that is far from the truth. The effects of addiction stretch out far beyond the addicted individual to their friends, family, and anyone else that cares for them. 

Addiction is a destructive disease, and no one feels the brunt of that destruction more than the immediate family of the person who is struggling with addiction.

Signs that a loved one is addicted

  • Difficulties at school, disinterest in school-related activities, and declining grades
  • Poor work performance, being chronically late to work, appearing tired and disinterested in work duties, and receiving poor performance reviews
  • Changes in physical appearance, such as wearing inappropriate or dirty clothing and a lack of interest in grooming
  • Altered behavior, such as an increased desire for privacy
  • Drastic changes in relationships
  • A noticeable lack of energy when performing daily activities
  • Spending more money than usual or requesting to borrow money
  • Issues with financial management, such as not paying bills on time
  • Changes in appetite, such as a decreased appetite and associated weight loss
  • Bloodshot eyes, poor skin tone, and appearing tired or run down
  • Defensiveness when asked about substance use

How are loved ones affected?

As an addict transitions from recreational use to full blown addiction, the family often gets trapped in the middle. Seeing their carefree loved one turn into a completely different person brings up a lot of emotions in fathers, mothers, siblings, and friends alike. Stuck in a whirlwind of confusion, hopelessness, and regret, immediate family members often do not know what to do. 

Younger Siblings

Younger and impressionable siblings have to be factored into the equation when dealing with an addict in the family. If an older sibling is an addict and setting bad examples for a younger sibling, this can have a profound effect on the child’s perspective on life. In fact, there is substantial evidence suggesting that younger siblings are more likely to abuse substances or get involved in deviant behaviors when influenced by an older relative (Ref). There are two ways that this happens: first, younger siblings often look up to their older counterparts, and seeing them use drugs or alcohol are normalizing these behaviors. Second, impressionable younger siblings see the perceived benefits of usings substances, thus influencing their willingness to try them at an older age (Ref).

Other problems an addict can induce in a sibling is excess stress and worry, pushing them away emotionally, and creating conflict within the household. Younger children within a turbulent household environment may turn to fantasy play and isolation in order to escape the chaos in the house. They may also start to defy authoritarian figures and get in trouble at school by inciting rebellious behavior.


Parents are not always aware that their child is abusing alcohol and/or drugs. As the negative effects of the substances begin permeating into the different areas of the abuser’s life such as school, physical health, family and friend relationships, the signs become more obvious. The process begins with suspicion that they are abusing substances, knowledge once the evidence becomes clear, followed by normalizing by denying the abuse or characterizing it as a phase in their adolescence that would pass, and ending with confrontation (ref). Throughout these developments, there is often a strong sense of “shame, blame, and guilt” (Ref). 


Relationships and marriage are intended for us to feel love, support, and happiness. When addiction is in the mix, these relationships can quickly become a source of chaos and conflict, violence, negativity, and emotional outbursts. Addiction is often paired with neglect, a lack of responsibility, and a change in priorities that shift a heavy share of household and financial responsibilities to the partner. This causes a loss in trust, resentment, regret, and guilt. As stress continues to increase, the relationship will begin to weaken and eventually collapse. Alcoholism and addiction are a leading cause of divorce. (Ref)


The slippery slope of addiction slowly whittles away meaningful friendships in several ways. At first, friends may often feel like they are pressured to partake in alcohol and drugs in order to relate. As it progresses, friends might perceive a change in the dynamic of their friendship To some, this added struggle will be too much to cope with ultimately leading to loss of trust then estrangement.

Ways family and friends help an addicted family member

Educate yourself about addiction

Understanding exactly what they are going through physically and mentally is an important first step. If you lack the knowledge and expertise regarding addiction and your child’s/partner’s/friend’s drug of choice, you will not have the information necessary to assist them. Do not try to rescue them; this will lead to resisting and resentment. Substance abuse requires specialized treatment and support, and the decision to enter treatment must be voluntary on the part of the addict. 

Seek out support groups for yourself

Many support groups are available for the friends and family members of people with substance use disorders. In recovery we emphasize the importance of a strong support system built of like minded peers. Family members don’t always have the resources or energy to provide this crucial support, but there are support groups out there. Here are some examples: 

Research treatment options for your family member

There are several levels to addiction treatment, each have varying degrees of intensity and support: 

Confront the individual and stage an intervention

Staging an intervention is usually the first step for families or friends who want to help someone battling an addiction. Interventions are common and, in many cases, quite effective. However, the concept is daunting, and it can be difficult to know how to mount one effectively. A proper intervention can take a lot of preparation and tends to be more successful with professional assistance. There are professional intervention specialists out there who can help you plan and guide the conversation before it takes place in a way that will minimize offense and mistakes. They are also more effective the more people you can get involved, so rally friends and relatives who are worried about the person. 

Some key points to keep in mind:

  • Show care and concern. A loved one should know that the intervention is because they are loved. Make sure they know this is happening because there are people that genuinely care for them and that they are not alone. 
  • Help them make the connections. Many addicts do not realize how much their behavior and life has changed. Maybe they previously enjoyed playing sports or hanging out with old friends, but now spend all their free time with drugs, alcohol or new friends with bad influences.
  • Research options. Come to the conversation with facts about the drug itself, treatment options, and how these treatments work.
  • Listen just as much as speaking. The goal is for them to know they are being heard, too.
  • Set limits. When they still deny and refuse treatment, make sure they understand the consequences that come with that.

Using encouragement and optimism builds a sense of teamwork and cooperation while reducing conflict and negativity. 

Lend support throughout the treatment process but set clear boundaries

Set boundaries during periods of calm when one can think rationally about what they will accept and what they won’t. This will help avoid inconsistency during times when boundaries are tested. Encourage them to:

  • Try new healthy coping skills.
  • Engage in new activities.
  • Foster more supportive peer relationships in recovery.
  • Face challenges.
  1. Practice self-care

Taking care of oneself is one the most important things someone can do when a loved one is struggling with addiction. Self-care comes in many forms: physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, and social. When practiced regularly, self-care can build resilience toward stressors in life that will follow you around. When the mind, body, and spirit are aligned and healthy, one can devote the energy needed to support their loved one. 

The best thing one can do for a loved one in early recovery is showing them that you are available and supportive.

Treatment options for a family member suffering from addiction in Los Angeles

Clear recovery center offers a wide continuum of care for individuals who are abusing substances as well as their families

Supporting an addict and offering resources can be a productive step.  If you or a loved one are experiencing addiction in the family, reach out to Clear Recovery Center for help. 

We have a long-standing reputation in the Los Angeles recovery community with nearly two decades of experience helping our clients rebuild their lives. Our skilled and passionate clinicians, many of whom are in recovery themselves, are dedicated to provide clients with the tools they need to live a life free from addiction.

From detox to residential to day treatment and aftercare, our evidence-based clinical programming is designed to deliver compassionate and individualized treatment to clients and their families. Call us today 877.799.1985 to find out how to support a loved one struggling with addiction.

Last Updated on February 7, 2023

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