Substance abuse, a family affair
Abandonment, fear, anger, embarrassment. These are the driving forces that propel children,
partners, parents and others into the abyss that is loving someone with a substance abuse
For the child of an addict, it means constant vigilance to keep the family’s secret. It means
watching the other parent struggle to single-handedly keep the family together. It means
constantly being on alert for the next argument which often means violence. For an older child it
may mean assuming the role of parent to younger siblings because there is no one else
available to fill that role. It means no money for outings, birthday or holiday celebrations, or at
times even food.
Partners too, have a fear of discovery. There is no support network because of the risk of
having to disclose the abuse. It means sole responsibility for financial and emotional support of
the family. Feeling trapped and isolated, he/she may withdraw from all but the most necessary
interactions with others.
Siblings don’t escape either. While they worry about the abuser they may at the same time
resent the havoc the abuser has brought to the family. They may feel neglected by parents
whose sole focus seems to be helping the abuser. There is resentment when it’s expected that
siblings contribute financially or otherwise to help the abuser deal with the consequences of
It’s no easier for parents of the abuser. Fear for the abusers health and safety. Guilt for not
being able to “save” the abuser. Resentment at being relied upon to provide what the abuser
cannot. Caring for and sometimes taking total responsibility for grandchildren instead of
enjoying the retirement they dreamed of and planned for.
And that’s not all. Children of substance abusers are more likely to abuse substances
themselves. As adults, they are often ill-equipped to function in the world because there was
no role model for them to emulate. They will lack the skills to parent their own children.
Families are torn apart when there is disagreement about how best to react- intervention,
financial support, treatment? Partners themselves may turn to substance abuse as a way to
cope or abandon the family altogether.
The fallout of substance abuse touches every aspect of society but the impact to families is
arguably the most devastating. Many families experience the effects for years as the cycle
repeats itself over generations. Imprisoned loved ones, children without parents, addicted
babies, relationships broken beyond any hope of repair are all the devastating results of
Worst of all may be the string of broken hearts left behind.
Taylored Counseling 2019