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How Does My Addiction Affect My Loved Ones?

November 3, 2021
Reviewed by: Rajnandini Rathod

Substance abuse is responsible for taking many lives and public health concerns, including mental health disorders. While one may want to just experience the drug for recreational purposes, it becomes a habit in a short span of time. Substance abuse and addiction do not only impact the person consuming, but also the family members in various ways.

In most cases, children are the most affected because of their parent’s addiction problems. The effects of substance abuse can be both short term or long term depending upon the consumption quantity. Let us explore in this article how your addiction can affect your family members or loved ones.

Substance Abuse and Its Impact on Children

Most children whose parents suffer from a substance abuse disorder (SUD) or other addictions have a difficult childhood that may be filled with conflicts.  A study conducted by Harvard pegs that one in five children in the US lives with parents or caregivers having a substance abuse disorder. Children growing up in such a home have a higher chance of suffering from addiction themselves in their adult years. 

The situation worsens in the case of single parents where the child fails to receive any parental guidance or support, thus hindering their development process. Substance abuse is also one of the significant causes of creating dysfunctional families where children may also develop trust issues or suffer abuse. It is only the surface of the problems caused by drug or alcohol addiction. 

  • Short-term Medical Impact

The grave effects of fatal use of substances have been well documented every year by different government and private agencies. Parental complications, prolonged hospitalisation, and untimely demise are only a few complications to name. Parents consuming substances especially during pregnancy may cause harm to the proper development of the baby.

Children require love and support in their growth years to become responsible humans in their adult years. However, this gets hindered in children whose parents suffer from an addiction. They may also suffer from withdrawals in the absence of substances which can cause changes in behavioural patterns, anxiety, and seizures. The stress caused to children because of their parent’s addiction problems increases their chances of falling prey to addiction themselves.

  • Long-term Medical Impact

Children exposed to early use of substances tend to develop behavioural disorders like impaired intellectual and disrupted cognitive functions. They are also highly likely to develop substance abuse disorders in the long run.

Children’s fatal exposure to drugs also affects their growth and development, including cognitive, behavioural, and language functions. Besides, teenagers can develop mood disorders, struggle with tasks needing visual memory, sleep disturbance, or reduced attention span.

Effects of Substance Abuse on Spouse and Relationships

Relationships and substance use do not mix well. It especially ripples the relationship of committed partners or spouses like a stone thrown in a pond. It is an easy analogy to understand how one partner using substances in excess affects everything else in their family.

If addiction increases with time, the marriage or relationship can turn abusive and unhappy. We hear many stories of families who have been victims of physical abuse by a person suffering from addiction. The effects are not limited to spouses or children, it extends to friends, relatives, and coworkers as well. Substance abuse also creates physical and emotional distance between committed partners further leading to bad marriages, dysfunctional families, divorce, or traumatic growth years of children.

If the addiction problem is not addressed on time, the conflicts within the family or partners keep increasing until vengeful or strong hate feelings arise that breaks apart the family.

Effects of Substance Abuse on Parents

Our parents remain our primary source of attachment, socialising, or nurturing required to keep up with our society. For the same reason alone, we usually hide our problems from them. When teens consume substances, they tend to hide them from their parents. The problem worsens over time and only comes to the forefront when it reaches its peak.

Getting diagnosed with a substance abuse problem at teenage is a terrifying thought for a parent. It affects the entire family equally as the situation escalates. It not only affects the teenager’s well being, parents also face similar issues. 

At such times, parents play another critical role in their children’s lives. Parents can start talking to their children to get help from a professional. Further, asking a paediatrician to screen the child for substances can help detect the magnitude of the problem. 

American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that the screening to detect the magnitude of the problem can be done on children above 9 years of age. 

Will Treatment Help Recover from Addiction?

Psychiatric treatments are generally given to people who develop an addiction. Treatment programs like the 12-Step Program can help reduce or eliminate your substance abuse problem. However, you must note that recovery is a lifetime process. If you do not want to visit a rehab centre to solve your substance abuse problem, you can always start with attending self-help groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA).

If you have a problem, it is worth entering self-help groups to help you along with your partner, family, friends, or any loved one. It can also help save your relationship at home or work. 

Many people face substance abuse problems that also cause a rise in mental health issues. However, it can be worked upon by entering a rehab centre or self-help groups (also maintains anonymity). For a person with addiction, these approaches of treatment are also helpful in getting the family’s support. 

How to Recognise Drug Abuse Patterns?

It happens only a few times that you may identify drug abuse problems in your partners, children, family, or loved ones. Here are some common drug abuse signs in people.

  • Problems at work or school – If your loved one is facing problems at work or place or education, it can be a sign of substance abuse. Reaching late or not showing up at work or school, a drop in performance, and disinterest in curricular activities are general signs.
  • Monetary issues – Sudden requests of children for increasing their pocket money or asking for extra money without reasonable explanation, missing items, stolen ornaments, missing money can be signs of substance abuse problems
  • Physical health problems – lack of motivation or energy, considerable weight gain or loss, red eyes, dark eye patches, sleep-deprived are some signs of substance abuse problems along with mental health issues.

Signs and symptoms of substance abuse problems vary for different people but the basic ones like sleep deprivation, lack of motivation or monetary problems, and bodily trembling remain the same. If you notice such patterns in yourself or your loved ones, getting professional help is best.

Dealing with Substance Abuse Problems at Home

It is crucial to know different signs and symptoms to follow any treatment plans for recovery. You must remember that every person with an addiction problem can stay abstinent for their life if only they have the determination and the right support or help. Family and parents play a crucial role during such needy times.

As they say, ‘help can be given to those who ask for it.’ It goes right with substance abuse problems where the person with addiction must ask for help before the problems slip out of hand. Talking to professionals, a psychologist or a psychiatrist can significantly help improve your or your loved one’s condition.     


The Impact of Substance Use Disorders on Families and Children: From Theory to Practice (Soc Work Public Health. 2013; 28(0): 194–205): PMC Labs (PMCID: PMC3725219, NIHMSID: NIHMS496858)

Understanding the Diverse Needs of Children whose Parents Abuse Substance (Curr Drug Abuse Rev. 2012 Jun; 5(2): 135–147): PMC Labs (PMCID: PMC3725219, NIHMSID: NIHMS496858)

Families Affected by Parental Substance Use by Vincent C. Smith, Celeste R. Wilson and COMMITTEE ON SUBSTANCE USE AND PREVENTION (Pediatrics July 2016)

Drug addiction (substance use disorder) – Disease & Conditions: Mayo Clinic

Teen Substance Use & Risks: Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs); (Page last reviewed: February 10, 2020)