How Addiction Affects Family and Friends 

Addiction often results in changes in behavior that can negatively impact your family and friends. In most cases, the person with an addiction believes their addiction is a secret … but it’s usually not. If you struggle with substance abuse, you may be unknowingly pushing your closest people in your life away.

This can develop into even more issues, including loneliness, depression, and further substance abuse.

In this article, you will discover how addiction affects family and friends.

How Addiction Affects Family and Friends

While struggling with their own demons, addicted individuals may be blissfully unaware of the chaos and destruction that is going on for those who love them.

As the key to escaping addiction lies with the person who is addicted, being on the outside of the problem can make for an incredibly helpless and confusing experience. Partners, children, parents, and friends can be swept along as innocent victims in the storm.

Here’s how addiction affects family and friends.

Related: How to Talk About Addiction to a Family Member

Partners

The first person to often bear the brunt of a loved one in addiction is the spouse or partner.

As the other adult in the family, a life partner is intimately aware of the changes that occur both leading up to – and in the middle of – an addiction. The non-addicted partner is likely to cycle through periods of suspicion, confrontation, making excuses, patience, denial, and depression. Resentment and lack of trust toward the addicted partner, who can appear to be selfishly and blissfully unaware of this struggle, can eventually mean the end of the relationship.

A partner who is in a relationship with an addicted person can end up feeling worse off than being alone. Security, which is such a vital part of an intimate relationship, goes out the window. They can begin to feel as though they are living with a stranger and a stranger who is dangerous. This stranger may come in and out of the house at unpredictable times. He or she may fly into fits of rage, and avoidance of this anger can leave the partner walking on eggshells.

The partner of an addicted person may feel a need to hide money and may feel a need to hide the children from the devastation that an addicted parent can bring into the home. Partner intimacy is destroyed, as trust and vulnerability give way to fear and self-protection.

Children

While partners are often the first to know that addiction has come into the home, children are the ones who suffer the deepest wounds. Predictability is one of the most important aspects of healthy childhood development, and the actions of an addicted parent are anything but predictable. Without the stability and security of knowing what to expect from mom or dad, children quickly learn that the world is a scary and dangerous place.

Even worse than not knowing what to expect is learning to expect fear and pain. Addiction can turn a normally calm and self-controlled parent into an emotional whirlwind. The short tempers brought on by substance intoxication and withdrawal can quickly turn into tirades of yelling and hitting. Children who fear the wrath of their addicted parents are robbed of the confidence of childhood, as they begin to second-guess their every interaction with a parent they once trusted with their whole being. This experience of fearing the person who is supposed to protect creates trauma for a child. 

Children who manage to escape the direct abuse from an addicted parent are not out of the woods, either. Addiction has a way of taking over every aspect of a person’s life, and parenthood is no exception. The daily cycle of drug-seeking behaviors, getting high, and sleeping it off leaves little time for active parenting duties. Children may find themselves having to scrape together their own meals, having to get themselves off to school, and even having to look after their younger siblings. Children who are neglected due to lack of parental supervision and care may experience parentification and can learn that their primary function in life is to put the needs of others before their own. This mindset can haunt a child throughout adulthood, which can contribute to future experiences of low self-esteem, depression, and stress.

Parents

Addiction doesn’t only come from the leaders of the household. It can also creep into the family by way of the children. While there are some positive studies which indicate that teen abuse of tobacco and alcohol are declining, nearly half of all high school seniors will admit to using some form of an illicit drug before graduation. Teenagers are also exposed to a myriad of designer drugs, many of which have dangerous side effects and questionable chemistry, and the increasing social acceptance of vaping and marijuana use can make the doorway into trying substances more accessible and inviting.

Prescription drug abuse is another route of addiction for adolescents. Parents and grandparents who are struggling with mental and physical health problems of their own tend to keep a ready supply of medications on hand, many of which are potentially addictive and will produce a high when misused. The current opioid epidemic, for instance, was triggered by the ease of obtaining pain medications while under a doctor’s care. Anti-anxiety and antidepressant drugs are also prescribed to patients at ever-increasing rates. It did not take long for teens to realize that their parent’s medicine cabinets can supply both a drug-fueled party and an easy way to make some cash from friends.

Parents of children who are addicted to substances can experience frightening amounts of distress. They watch as their dear, sweet, child turns into someone whom they do not know. They slowly learn that the boy or girl that they had such high hopes for can become someone who will lie, manipulate, and even steal for the addiction. Parents can spend many sleepless nights, worrying that they may receive a dreaded call from law enforcement. They can end up watching their financial investment in their child’s future go down the drain, even while they beat themselves up for having failed as a parent.

Friends

While friends are often on the outside of the intimate family struggles with addiction, their lives can be negatively impacted by watching a friend sink into the downward spiral of addiction. For young people, in particular, the friend group is a pivotal piece of development into an adult. For the majority of adolescence and young adulthood, identity is defined by one’s peer group. Having a best friend in addiction means that the sober friend has to make the difficult decision of joining in, struggling to stand by, or walking away from the friendship. None of those choices are easy to make or maintain.