What Happens When Addiction Is in the Family

Addiction in the family has a ripple effect and can impact everyone. When a child has substance abuse disorder, the entire family unit is influenced.  Siblings can experience confusion about the issues, leading to maladaptive coping skills or other behavioral problems. Often, we only focus on the person with the addiction while assuming that other family members are fine, as long as they seem okay in comparison.

However, beneath the surface, siblings and other family members can have their own challenges as they attempt to understand the behavior of their loved one who struggles. As a result, family members can suffer in silence, or the entire family system can be disrupted. In addition, everyday activities can be interrupted when the attention goes to a family member in crisis or acting out due to addiction.

Everyone Suffers the Experience

Each family member will adjust their behavior in relation to one another. When living within the same household, we cannot avoid influencing one another. For example, a child with an addiction might disrupt the routines of parents and siblings by coming in late at night, elevating stress levels during fights, or taking attention away from other members of the family. Parents might neglect to care for their adult relationships with one another due to stress over dealing with a child’s issues. Siblings could feel neglected by parents and become angry or detached from the family unit.

Underlying all of the frustration, anger, and hurt feelings is worry. Siblings and parents of a child who struggles often worry about their loved one. Younger siblings can be concerned that their older sibling is going to hurt themselves. They could be confused and just want their siblings to be happy. They might even blame themselves or question if they have done someone to cause the issues occurring in the home.

Parents can struggle with long nights, going in and out of appointments, dealing with crisis after crisis, missing work, or other issues when helping a child with addiction. Conceivably, they feel their hopes and dreams are dissipating as their child continues to go down a dark path. The happy and healthy family life they wanted seems hopeless, and perhaps they struggle with their own mental health challenges as a result.

Enabling and Loving

Families can go through several disagreements over how to help the child who struggles. For example, one parent might accuse another of enabling, while the other parent believes they are just keeping their child safe. The family disagreements over handling the behaviors of a child struggling can cause rifts between parenting partners. However, blaming one family member for enabling does not help the issue. Any action aimed toward trying to help a child with an addiction often has the best intentions.

Families might need to process their feelings and create a unified response to the challenges. They can all agree on one thing: they love their child with addiction and want what is best for them and the entire family. Shaming other family members for enabling or being too easy on the struggling child will only divide the family. To combat the current crisis, the family needs to be united and come together based on unconditional love and support.

Care for the Entire Family

Addiction can have an impact on the mental health of each family member. Parents could worry that addiction will run in the family and worry excessively about the other siblings. Younger kids will often look up to older kids and adults, whether or not they realize the example that they set. Even after the child with addiction goes to treatment, the impact on the entire family can be long-lasting when not addressed.

Helping others can be accomplished by ensuring that the child who struggles has the care they need while also giving attention to each family member. We often prioritize the time that we spend with family based on what is urgent or a crisis. When a child struggles, we might need additional support to make sure we can have time for ourselves and other family members.

The entire family can heal through this process. No one suffers from addiction alone. Even though loved ones might not have the same challenges, watching a child struggle impacts everyone in the family. As Fire Mountain’s Aaron Huey states during coaching calls with parents, remember to take care of yourself first, your adult relationships second, and then you will be best able to support your children in recovery.

Addiction impacts the entire family and not just the person struggling. Parents and siblings can feel stressed due to problematic behaviors within the home. Siblings might blame themselves for the issues occurring, especially younger siblings who do not understand the family crisis. Each person in the family has a way of coping with the stress over their loved one’s addiction. Some may develop maladaptive coping strategies or feel neglected as a result. The entire family will feel the effects of one another’s behavior. The best approach to help the person with addiction is to help everyone in the home. Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center understands that addiction impacts not just one person within the family but also the entire family system. We offer parent coaching classes and support for everyone in your family. Call us today at (303) 443-3343 to connect with our staff. We’re here to help your family’s fire burn brightest.

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