By: Cristian Renzi
Addiction is not something that only an individual goes through. Everyone around the person who is in the act of addiction is also affected. If someone you know and love is suffering with something, it is bound to make you feel sad, defeated and even sometimes angry and helpless. This is no different in addiction. As stated by Rafiq and Sadiq (2019), drug addiction does not only harm the individual, but makes the whole family ill.
The burden on the WHOLE family when ONE member of the family is suffering from addiction is immense in a number of areas, and in a number of ways in those areas. For example, if addiction is making a family suffer financially, this could also place higher stress on the family to make ends meet, therefore they are also stressed, and suffering emotionally. On the other end of the spectrum, suffering emotionally could make a family member unable to work, making emotional stress turn into financial stress. Throughout this blog are a few areas that I believe are highly relevant to most situations. Keep in mind that these are all broad areas with rough examples and ideas. The reason I write this blog is to hopefully show individuals suffering from addiction a different perspective on how they might be affecting others. I also hope that it helps any family struggling with addiction know that you are not alone. Addiction happens in many families, and help is certainly out there.
The stigma around mental health and talking about mental health is well documented. Despite excellent efforts like Stomp Out the Stigma Campaigns, or #BellLetsTalk, stigmas around mental health and addiction are still prevalent. So what exactly is a stigma? According to Bharadwaj, Pai and Suziedelyte (2015), stigma is a divergence from social norms which result in the individual being marginalized and discredited by “normal” society. Stigmas are certainly present for the individual going through addiction, oftentimes being called derogatory names like “junkie” or “crackhead” etc., but this is not where the stigma or judgement from others stops.
It also unfortunately affects the family. The struggling individual’s spouse now also becomes the husband or wife of an addict. Many in society might begin to think “if she was a better wife, he probably wouldn’t have gone down that road.”. This person’s children become viewed differently as well. Many people might begin to think that the child will follow in the same footsteps as the parent. I have heard people throw out “facts” like that child is genetically predisposed to addiction, and is now apparently double, triple, or even eight-times more likely to become an addict themselves, when in fact the scientific literature states differently. According to Sparks & Tisch (2018), when children do have parents and/or grandparents that are addicts, they are more genetically predisposed to certain impulsivity traits, and self-control issues.
However, proper parenting effectively brings these traits to normal levels, making the genetic risk low. Even if a person’s child becomes an addicted individual, that parent is also likely to be questioned as an unfit parent, or fault may fall on them for their child’s addiction. I, however, remember having multiple specific conversations with individuals currently going through rehab, saying that they had amazing childhoods, their parents were always there for them, and yet they still ended up addicted. Muralidharan et al. (2016) cite stigma as the most relevant subject burdening families of people with mental illness. The reason I speak about stigma at such length is to remind families of people suffering that they are not alone in feeling judged or misrepresented. I would also encourage those who know a family suffering to reach out, help in any way you can without judgement, sometimes just a phone call can go a long way. Lastly, if you know a family is struggling, judgement is never helpful.
Put simply, things that a person gets addicted to are usually pretty expensive. Drugs/alcohol aren’t cheap, prostitution is expensive, and gambling can range from a $1 scratch to a million-dollar home or more.
There are many cases where addicts spend more on their addiction at a monthly rate than what they are actually making. Now, in doing some math here, we are able to see how the effects of this could be potentially fatal to the financial well-being of the family unit. Even without the consideration of living expenses, this cannot possibly be sustainable. The most troubling part with a lot of these scenarios is that the addicts do not care often reasoning their spending habits with the feeling of their addiction. This produces added stress on the rest of the family and loved ones around them as they will most likely need financial help to stay afloat.
Ranea et al. (2017) state that 100 million families worldwide are affected by the addictive behaviours of a family member, with effects on their own finances and work performances even when they are not addicted themselves. The financial toll is certainly gruelling, and can very easily have lasting effects that can impact your children’s education fund, or your parent’s retirement fund. Oftentimes this can result in poverty and economic hardship for the whole family (Rafiq and Sadiq, 2019).
I believe this is important because if someone you know is struggling with addiction, help can be in the simplest of ways. Ask the person’s spouse to go to lunch with you and offer to cover the bill if you can, or if you are close enough, simply ask the person if they are struggling financially. Offer to help if you can non-judgmentally, and without condescension. Sometimes these offers go further than we might think.
There is a large emotional toll associated with the families of people suffering from addiction. Families are very complex systems and are also quite delicate. Disruptions in one person often result in members of another subsystem within the family trying to help compensate. For example, if a parent is struggling with addiction, and can’t properly care for their family, perhaps a grandparent might step in to help, or an older child of that individual might pick up a part-time job to help make ends meet.
The effects of this happening are widespread, and can result with resentment towards the individual, or the family system never being “normal” again. This is difficult for any individual in the family as it is happening, but also has implications later on in life. Elder children step into roles that they shouldn’t need to, and parents are stuck with extremely heavy burdens. These things occurring can result in a very high amount of distress, and emotional disturbances which are risk factors for children developing addictions themselves (Sparks & Tisch, 2018). This is known as something called “the cycle of addiction”, in which, parents being addicted individuals, increase the likelihood of their children becoming addicts. Not only does it increase the likelihood for the children of addicted individuals to become addicts themselves, having an addicted parent also increases the prevalence for other mental health issues in their spouses and children.
Rafiq and Sadiq (2019), found that having a substance abusing father increases the likelihood of depression, anxiety and hypomania in children. They also found that wives of drug addicted husbands are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, isolation behaviours, feelings of guilt (for their husband’s addiction) and even suicidal thoughts and behaviours.
Another study showed that wives of substance abusing husbands also tended to be more hostile, more angry, and show social dysfunctions (Zehra Ali and Sadiq, 2011). So while the genetic risk of passing on addiction might be lowered with proper parenting, the emotional effects of having an addicted parent may be more difficult to heal.
Addiction certainly has effects on the whole family, not just one individual. However, it is not all hopeless. According to Dekkers, Ruysscher & Vanderplasschen (2020), support within the family is very helpful for individuals going through addiction recovery, as well as for members of the family. Supporting each other even when individuals are recovering, or going through issues at their own pace is extremely beneficial. There are bound to be stigmas, there are bound to be financial difficulties, there are bound to be emotional times, feelings, arguments and so on. There are going to be hard times. Only through mutual support and understanding, often-times mixed with outside help are families to get through addiction. This might be easier said than done, there are stories of great successes and those of great failures in addictions, but with the proper assistance, tools and attitude, families can make it through.
Ali, A. Z., & Sadiq, R. (2011). Psychological problems in wives of adults with substance abuse problem. Pakistan Journal of Clinical Psychology, 10(2).
Bharadwaj, P., Pai, M. M., & Suziedelyte, A. (2017). Mental health stigma. Economics Letters, 159, 57-60.
Dekkers, A., De Ruysscher, C., & Vanderplasschen, W. (2020). Perspectives on addiction recovery: focus groups with individuals in recovery and family members. Addiction Research & Theory, 1-11.
Muralidharan, A., Lucksted, A., Medoff, D., Fang, L. J., & Dixon, L. (2016). Stigma: a unique source of distress for family members of individuals with mental illness. The journal of behavioral health services & research, 43(3), 484-493.
Rafiq, M., & Sadiq, R. (2019). Caregiver Stress, Perceived Stigma and Mental Health in Female Family Members of Drug Addicts: Correlational Study. JPMA.
Rane, A., Church, S., Bhatia, U., Orford, J., Velleman, R., & Nadkarni, A. (2017). Psychosocial interventions for addiction-affected families in Low and Middle Income Countries: A systematic review. Addictive behaviors, 74, 1-8.
Sparks, S. N., & Tisch, R. (2018). A Family-Centered Program to Break the Cycle of Addiction. Families in Society, 99(2), 100-109.