Drug Abuse and the Family Unit

Young father drinks in front of his family

When we have to confront the relatively unpleasant issues that abound from drug and alcohol abuse, we have to also discuss the more unpleasant sides to this coin, like how drug abuse affects the entire family unit. Drug and alcohol abuse is an unpleasant occurrence by itself, but add to it all of the devastation and havoc that it wrecks on the family members and loved ones of that addict, suddenly we have a huge problem with multiple consequences.

Drug Abuse has Far-Reaching Effects

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation performed extensive research into the family dynamic, how it functions, and how it operates particularly when drug abuse enters in by way of one of the family members. According to the Foundation’s research paper:

“Problem drug use has a profound impact on all family members. Mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters are caught in the maelstrom that drug problems almost always create…”
“Problem drug use has a profound impact on all family members. Mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters are caught in the maelstrom that drug problems almost always create. Furthermore, when drugs come into a family, there is the danger that siblings might become involved in problem drug use, thus adding to family problems.”

When a son or daughter, mother or father, or any other family member who has a close connection to the rest of the family abuses drugs and alcohol, this has a significant impact on the family dynamic and its function. The family members and loved ones of addicts always seem to suffer from great levels of stress, regular conflict, high anxiety, depression, and a plethora of extenuating circumstances.

The family members and loved ones of addicts almost always experience grief and other problems as a result of trying to protect their addicted loved ones from the dangers and risks that come with drug abuse and alcoholism. Not only that, but family members often become divided and broken amongst themselves in an ongoing push and pull of disagreement on how to help, or not to help, the addicted loved one. This creates inner turmoil within the family, even when the addict is not nearby. In short, addiction within the family absolutely tears families apart.

Family Meeting

What Families Can Do

This would be a pretty depressing article if all we talked about was how drug addicts and alcoholicstear families apart and cause damage. Let’s take a look instead at what the family members of an addict can do to ensure that their family unit does not get torn asunder by the addict.

Family members need to unite under the approach of loving in spite of all but loving with a firm, non-enabling hand. Family members need to work together to show the addict that they love him or her and want to see them get help, but that they will do nothing that comes across as enablement.

Family members must be cautious in this arena, because it is very easy to do something for an addict that actually, in a way, assists them to continue abusing drugs and alcohol. For example, giving an addict food or a place to sleep really only enables their behavior, allowing them to get a free ride and continue to use drugs and alcohol.

Addicts must hit a rock bottom of sorts before they are fully ready and willing to get help. They must experience some form of a wakeup call, a realization that their life is going to get a whole lot worse if they do not take action to correct it now. When the family members of an addict make the addict’s life easier in some way, this actually prevents the addict from experiencing that realization, that rock bottom, that they absolutely need to have. This is enablement, and it is something that families must avoid at all costs.

The family members and loved ones of addicts should not despair and think that they can do nothing to help their loved one. They can, and they need to start now.




After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.