Drug addiction is an illness that can destroy lives. However, there is a common misconception that states it affects only those actually using the drugs. The reality, however, is quite different. Rather than being left to get on with their addictive behaviour because they are only harming themselves, drug addicts require help and support to overcome this illness. It is an addiction that has devastating consequences for so many other people, and families in particular. The issue of how drug addiction affects families is a complex one.
Those who live with the drug addict will usually be the worst affected by the illness, but extended family members also suffer. Parents, sibling’s spouses, and children are all affected in one way or another, but it is the kids who tend to suffer the most. This is usually because their needs are neglected, not only by the addicted parent but also by other adults who might see them as too young to understand what is going on.
What Do the Stats Say?
Substance abuse is a massive problem here in the UK, and according to a report by the NSPCC, the charity is receiving an average of one drug- or alcohol-related contact every hour. The number of contacts has increased by sixteen per cent since 2013-2014, and over the three-year period since then, more than 20,000 cases were judged to have been so serious that external agencies, including the police and children’s services, were contacted.
NSPCC Chief Executive Peter Wanless said at the time, “Drug and alcohol abuse can have hugely damaging effects around children and it’s clearly troubling to see a rise over time in reports of this problem to our helpline.
Substance misuse all too often leads to the neglect or abuse of a child and it’s absolutely crucial that we do all we can to stop that. The NSPCC provides services directly to families suffering from these problems to help them overcome them and provide their children with a safe and secure upbringing.
But everyone has a duty to look out for potential signs of distress and the NSPCC’s helpline is there to provide help and support 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”
How Parental Addiction Affects Children
When thinking about how drug addiction affects families, it is important to look more closely at the plight of children of addicts, who are often referred to as forgotten victims. Children suffer many different feelings and emotions when a parent is addicted to drugs; these include guilt, fear, shame, confusion, sadness, anger, loneliness, anxiety, and helplessness.
However, the impact on kids differs from one household to another. Some children of addicts will continue to function quite well, and to the outside world it may not appear as though there is no problem. Other children will suffer greatly, and their parent’s illness will have a profound effect on all aspects of their life. Their schoolwork might suffer, and they may be unable to form healthy relationships with their peers.
How drug addiction affects families, and particularly children, is influenced by several factors. For example, the effect on the child might be greater if both parents were addicted to drugs, rather than just one. It is often the case that the emotional impact is more severe when it is the mother who is addicted to drugs. This is usually because the mother tends to be the primary care provider.
In general, the more severe the addiction, the greater the impact on the child. The impact is also influenced by whether another caregiver was present in the child’s life. For example, a relative might step in to provide a strong sense of care to the child, which can help to lessen neglect and feelings of hopelessness and insecurity. Another caregiver could help the child to develop coping skills, which would also lessen the negative impact on the child.
The Role of Family Dynamics
Children are affected differently by parental addiction, depending on their age when the illness began and on where their place is within the family unit. Studies have shown that first-born, middle and youngest children all react differently to a parent’s drug addiction.
The role of the non-addicted parent or another caregiver can also influence how deeply affected the children are. If a non-addicted parent manages to cope well and is still meeting the needs of the kids, the impact will be lessened.
On the other hand, if the non-addicted spouse is struggling to cope with the effect of the addiction and the impact that this is having, he or she is less likely to be able to tend to the children.
The dynamics of the family before the addiction is another factor worth considering. In families where members were not encouraged, or even allowed, to express their feelings, the impact can be worse because the natural response is to hold everything in.
How Are Children Affected by Parental Addiction?
Adults affected by drug addiction will often struggle with mood swings, leading to unpredictable or even chaotic behaviour. For children, this can be confusing and upsetting and many will blame themselves for their parent’s outbursts or aggressive behaviour.
The development of children who are living with addicted parents can be deeply affected. They are living in an atmosphere that is frightening and confusing and will have to learn how to adapt to this. Kids learn to isolate themselves from their peers as they get older because they will not want others to know about their addicted parent.
These youngsters may miss out on social events because their parent is under the influence, and this can result in them being singled out or bullied by other kids. Some children will learn to lie to cover up their shame and embarrassment about their parent’s illness.
The impact on children can last long into adulthood. The issues that children have faced growing up with an addicted parent can lead to deep emotional scars that can prevent them from developing healthy relationships with their peers.
Some children will go on to struggle with addiction themselves. It is common to assume that children of addicts would stay as far away from chemical substances as possible. What often happens though is that these kids have learned to see drugs as a coping mechanism.
The idea of taking drugs to deal with various life situations is familiar to them and so many will struggle themselves in adulthood.
Can You Lessen the Impact on Your Family?
The only way to reduce the impact of your drug addiction on your family members is to put substance abuse behind you for good. Nevertheless, this is easier said than done for some people. The very idea of having to give up the substance that you are dependent on might be something that fills you with dread. Once you do though, you will be able to rebuild relationships with those you love.
The good news is that overcoming a drug addiction is entirely possible for everyone. Even if you have been struggling with a drug addiction for many years, you should know that you can get better. With the right programme of treatment and support from fully trained and experienced professionals, you can learn how to quit drugs for good and go on to live a substance-free life.
The programmes of detoxification and rehabilitation at Oasis Recovery can help you beat your addiction. With a seven-to-ten-day detox programme, you will be provided with support to help you quit drugs for good. This can be followed with an inpatient programme of rehabilitation, designed to tackle the psychological addiction.
Rehab will help you to identify the cause of your illness and learn ways to ensure you avoid a return to it going forward. If you would like more information on our programmes and how they could help you to get your life back on track, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us today.