How Drugs Affect Your Relationship With Family & Friends

Neglect, abuse, financial problems, mental illness, trauma, disease risks, and developmental problems are how drug and alcohol abuse affect family and friends. Different treatment options can help people with addictions and their loved ones understand and treat substance use disorder and addiction.

Drug and alcohol abuse is, unfortunately, far too common today. You likely have heard abundant news coverage about the impact of addiction on those who use drugs, as well as on communities as a whole. However, the direct impact of substance use disorder on families can, at times, be overlooked.

Sadly, the drug abuse effects on family can be overwhelming, and even distressing. Addiction doesn’t just impact the person using drugs or alcohol. Every member of the family, from spouses, to parents, to children and siblings, are impacted in some way. If you are in this situation now and have just started the journey as a family or friend of someone with an addiction, you might be wondering what is the most likely effect on a household when a family member is a substance use disorderr?

How Does Drug Addiction Affect the Family

The effects of drug addiction on family members can be significant and profound. It is common for family members to begin questioning where they went wrong and what they could have done to prevent their loved one from turning to drugs or alcohol. They may blame themselves for their loved one’s addiction, or they may begin to resent their loved one for putting the family through this situation. It is likely that someone with a substance use disorder doesn’t truly understand how addiction affects family and friends. While addiction is a disease that can change how a person thinks, behaves, or feels, they often say or do things that hurt family and friends. In some cases, individuals with an addiction lie to their family and friends, attempting to hide their substance use. They may steal money or drugs to feed their habit. In some cases, they may even neglect their obligations to their family, including caring for their children or contributing financially.

Financial Consequences

Addiction is expensive, both to maintain and to treat. When a person’s drug or alcohol use becomes compulsive and more frequent, the addict might quickly drain a family’s bank account to pay for his or her next fix. Sometimes, people with substance use disorders steal or hoard money to pay for drugs or alcohol, ignoring family responsibilities, such as paying bills or buying groceries. This can lead to serious repercussions for the entire family, including utilities being shut off, houses being repossessed, or children being removed from the home due to neglect.

Abuse or Neglect

Unfortunately, drug and alcohol abuse results in changes in the brain (neurotransmitter levels) that can alter a person’s behavior, personality, and ability to think rationally. A person who would never harm another while not using drugs or alcohol can cause physical or emotional harm when under the influence. Some drugs can make a person more aggressive and unable to control their temper, leading to a higher likelihood of physical abuse towards a spouse, child, friend, or other family member. They may also have difficulties controlling what they say, sometimes using abusive or hurtful language.The American Society of Addiction Medicine states that intimate partner violence is exceedingly common in relationships where one or both partners has a substance use disorder disorder. In fact, around half of all instances of IPV occur while at least one partner is under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

In some tragic cases, alcohol and drug abuse can also lead to sexual abuse, especially of children. This can happen, for example, if a parent under the influence invites others who use drugs over to the house for an extended period of time and that person abuses children in the home.

Risk of Disease

Another unfortunate consequence of addiction is the risk of spreading infections, such as HIV and hepatitis B and C. This is especially true if your loved one injects drugs, although in some cases, this can also happen if your friend or family member is involved in risky sexual activity.

These diseases can potentially be spread between sexual partners, especially before one partner becomes aware of the other partner’s substance use. They can also be passed on from mother to baby through pregnancy or breastfeeding.

Trauma and Mental Illness

Having a loved one with a drug or alcohol addiction can be extremely stressful. Some family members or friends find that they become anxious or depressed while trying to cope with the situation. Others, and in particular children and those who have been abused by their addicted family member, can develop post-traumatic stress disorder or other trauma-related conditions.

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Substance Use Disorder in Families

There are many effects of substance use disorder on family relationships. In fact, alcohol or drug addiction affects the entire family. People with substance use disorder disorders often begin to separate themselves from the people who love them. Many times, they lose interest in the activities they used to enjoy and withdraw from family and friends. It doesn’t matter whether the person with the substance use disorder is a parent, child spouse, or sibling, addiction typically leads to broken or strained relationships. In the case of spouses, an addiction might lead to divorce to protect the spouse without an addiction or any children in the marriage.

Child of an Addicted Parent

Children of addicted parents are often in the unique position of having to become caretakers to their parents, even if the children are young. Rather than focusing on school and friendships if the child is young, or on their own family and careers if the child is an adult, the role of caregiver is put on the child. This can have a significant impact on the child’s development, especially if the parent ultimately overdoses.

Many children of addicted parents show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, or depression. This can impact their ability to make and keep friends, trust adults in their lives, and do well in school. Some children also develop behavioral disorders or experience bullying, and others ultimately drop out of school and/or develop a substance use disorder of their own. Studies show that children with parents who suffer from addiction are more likely to develop addictions of their own.

Addiction Affects Everyone

With the significant number of individuals with drug or alcohol addiction, society can no longer ignore the effects of drug abuse on family and society. While clearly, substance use disorder can destroy a family, friends, coworkers, and community members are also affected.  

It is understandable that you might feel protective of your loved one and want to shield him or her from negative social, financial, health, or legal consequences of their addiction. In doing so, perhaps you isolate yourself from outside family or friends or you begin to neglect your own needs and responsibilities.

Doing so can also result in your relationship changing to one that is codependent. While you are likely trying to protect your loved one with good intentions, you might also be inadvertently enabling the addiction by removing any motivation for your loved one to quit using drugs or drinking.

Supporting a Loved One in Treatment

Some of the biggest support available during treatment and recovery is from the family of drug abusers. Usually, a family member or friend is the first to notice symptoms of drug abuse in a loved one and then encourage the loved one to find treatment. Determining when to encourage a loved one to seek treatment and finding an appropriate treatment option can also be a stressful time for your family, adding to uncertainty about the future and your loved one’s healing.

When it’s time to find treatment for your friend or family member, family rehab centers offer a variety of treatment options. Just make sure you ask all the appropriate questions prior to entering addiction rehab. Upon intake, the treatment specialists will help your loved one find the option, or combination of options, that works best for his or her personality and needs. Below are some of the treatment options available. When you talk with your loved one about treatment, you might find it helpful to be able to describe some of the options available.

12-Step Treatment

Perhaps the most widely known treatment option is 12-step treatment. These programs have been used for almost 100 years and can be used for both drug and alcohol addiction. In this form of treatment, there is a significant emphasis on peer support through meetings and support groups with others who are recovering from substance use disorder. During recovery, clients will work through the 12 steps, including admitting that they are powerless over their addiction, building a belief in a higher power, asking the higher power for help, making amends to those hurt by addiction, and helping others struggling with addiction. Emphasis is also placed on anonymity.

Non-12 Step Treatment

Not everyone feels comfortable using a 12-step treatment program, so for those people, non-12 step treatment can be the key to recovery. Often, these programs combine evidence-based scientific approaches with approaches that address an individual’s physical and emotional well-being. This might include counseling, medically-supervised detox, dual-diagnosis treatment, and any combination of the below options.
Some people prefer to take a faith-based approach to treatment. In faith-based treatment, individuals are given the tools necessary to grow in their spiritual beliefs, allowing them to reconnect with their higher power during the recovery process. Faith-based treatment can be applied to any spiritual belief and to most treatment modalities. Individuals seeking a faith-based approach will be offered the option for spiritual discussions and training with peers, counseling, and, if requested, guidance from a faith leader, such as a priest, rabbi, deacon, or minister.

Dual-Diagnosis Treatment

In a significant number of those with substance use disorder disorders, an underlying mental illness also exists, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), ADHD, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia. Sometimes symptoms of the mental-illness cause people to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol as a way to cope, while other mental illnesses are triggered by substance use. Finally, in some people, it can be difficult to determine which came first, but the combination of mental illness and substance use disorder causes worsening symptoms of both.

Dual-diagnosis treatment is designed to address both mental health and the addiction. If only the addiction is addressed, there is a high likelihood that the individual will turn back to drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with symptoms of the mental illness. It is important to treat the co-occurring disorders.

Holistic Treatment

Addiction isn’t just a physical condition. In fact, substance use disorder can cause damage to the body, mind, and spirit. Therefore, taking a holistic treatment approach can be powerful in helping one overcome addiction. In holistic rehab, a variety of options can be integrated, with many able to be used even after the initial treatment process is complete. Some holistic options include yoga, meditation, fitness and nutrition counseling, acupuncture, massage, psychotherapy, art or music therapy, biofeedback, neuro-feedback, and outdoor experiences.

SMART Recovery Treatment

Finally, SMART Recovery is a rehab option that has been shown to be promising in addictions treatment. SMART stands for Self-Management and Recovery Training and is a science-based treatment option that encourages individuals to be an active part of their own treatment and recovery. By teaching individuals how to build and maintain motivation, cope with urges, manage thoughts, feelings, and behavior, and live a balanced life, those in treatment and recovery are empowered to take control of their situation and work towards improving their own quality of life.

What to Expect During Treatment and Recovery

As a family member or friend of someone with an addiction, you play a key role in the healing and recovery process. However, the treatment or recovery process might be difficult for you from time to time. The impact of your loved one’s addiction can sometimes be confusing or overwhelming, but it can be helpful to know what to expect during this time. Some things that your loved one might do during treatment or recovery that might surprise or concern you include:

  • Demonstrating strong emotions: Rehab can be a very emotional time for your loved one. It might bring up emotions or trauma that he or she was using alcohol or drugs to suppress. It also might mean that your loved one loses access to friends and a lifestyle he or she was attached to. It is likely that he or she did not have many appropriate and healthy strategies for dealing with stress, anxiety, anger, depression, or other strong emotions so your loved one might express emotions in a way that scares you. If you are feeling unsafe or your loved one is exhibiting extreme behaviors, it is important to find help and make sure you are in a safe environment.
  • Exchanging one addiction for another: People with drug or alcohol addictions often have an underlying tendency towards addictive behaviors. Sometimes, this means that when they stop using drugs or alcohol, they will instead engage in another addictive behavior, including smoking, video games, drinking coffee, or shopping as a substitute. As long as the behaviors aren’t causing harm, it might be necessary to allow them to use these substitute behaviors for awhile to transition away from substance use disorder. Your loved one’s addictions treatment team will help them learn moderation and healthy coping.
  • Expecting forgiveness: There is a good chance that your loved one hurt you or others during his or her addiction. During treatment, he or she will undergo counseling and will work on ways to mend relationships. They might expect that you will be willing to forgive them right away. However, you also have the right to your feelings about the situation and you have the right to take time to heal. Family therapy can provide a safe avenue for you and your loved one to take steps to mend your relationship.
  • Relapsing: Unfortunately, many who have a drug or alcohol addiction experience at least one relapse during the recovery process. This doesn’t mean that treatment has failed or that your loved one can’t recover. It is simply an obstacle in the winding path towards full recovery. You cannot control whether your loved one does or does not experience a relapse, so try not to blame yourself. It does mean that your loved one needs more time in rehab to address the problem.

Transition Options

The impact of having a family member or friend with a substance use disorder doesn’t simply stop once the individual is in treatment. After treatment, your loved one will begin to transition back to his or her life. One of the most important transition steps involves finding an appropriate place to life that is safe for the individual in recovery and for the rest of the family. During this time, you will continue your healing as well, but some things in your family might forever be changed.

Halfway House or Sober Living Community

Sometimes, people in early recovery needs a bit more support, supervision, or stability than what is available at home. This means that they will be placed in a halfway house or sober living community to help them through the early recovery process. When it is safe to do so, your loved one will then transition back home.

Returning Home

In some cases, an individual may transition directly from rehab to home. The treatment team will help you and your loved one develop appropriate guidelines and boundaries for your home to ensure that you and your family members are safe and that your loved one has the support necessary for recovery. Using an addiction recovery contract template can help you develop a contract with your loved ones that outline clear boundaries about what behaviors are acceptable or not acceptable once your loved one returns home.

Once your loved one is in recovery, it is likely that your day-to-day life will still be impacted. You will probably need to make some long-term changes to keep your family member or friend safe. This might mean changing the way you celebrate special occasions, especially if alcohol played a central role in those celebrations. It might also mean hosting family gatherings where you can ensure a sober environment, especially during early recovery.

Self-Care for Family and Friends

Self-care is not only essential for your loved one in recovery, but it is also essential for you. Your life has likely been turned upside down in recent months or years and you might not have had the chance to look after your own physical and mental health. Self-care is also important in ensuring you choose healthy ways to cope with the stress of your loved one’s addiction and recovery. A few ideas to nurture your own health and well-being include:

  • Prepare healthy meals
  • Keep a gratitude journal
  • Practice tai chi, yoga, deep breathing, meditation, or guided relaxation
  • Go for a hike through the woods or in a park
  • Spend 30 minutes a day exercising
  • Learn a new hobby or spend time on a hobby you already enjoy
  • Develop a good sleep routine and try to get at least seven hours of sleep per night
  • Start the day with a cup of coffee or tea while reading or enjoying some sunshine
  • See your doctor, dentist, and eye doctor for checkups
  • Get a haircut, massage, pedicure, or manicure
  • Do something off your bucket list
  • Journal, scrapbook, or write in your planner
  • Join a book club
  • Take up a new sport
  • Practice martial arts
  • Have a lunch date, cup of coffee, or see a movie with your best friend

Support Groups for Family and Friends

One of the best forms of self-care you can do during this time is to find a support group for family members or friends of addicts. These support groups can be instrumental in linking you to others who have been right where you are now. This can be incredibly helpful in combating feelings of isolation and despair. Others in the support group have walked this journey and have experienced all of the ups and downs. There are several options for support groups. If you need help finding one, a family friendly rehab facility can help you locate appropriate support groups near you. Some examples of groups other friends and families of addicts have found helpful include:


Part of Alcoholics Anonymous, Alateen is for teens who have a loved one with alcoholism.

Adult Children of Alcoholics

This 12-step program supports adults who either grew up with parents who are alcoholics or are experiencing their parents’ alcoholism as an adult.

 Families Anonymous

FA is a 12-step group for all adults who have a friend or family member with any form of substance use disorder or addiction.

 Recovering Couples Anonymous

This group is similar to Families Anonymous but is specifically for spouses and partners where one or both has some type of substance addiction.

Parents of Addicted Loved Ones (PALS)

For parents who have either a minor or adult child with an addiction, PALS offers both in-person and online support.

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Getting Help and Finding Hope

Your family has likely undergone many changes during this time. You might find yourself anxious about the future, angry at your situation, worried about your loved one, or hopeful that he or she can recover and heal. It is important to understand that all of these feelings are normal. Despite all of the difficulties your loved one’s addiction might have brought, addiction is treatable. If you suspect that your friend, spouse, parent, child, or sibling has a drug or alcohol addiction, contact us. We are happy to support you in your healing as a family. We hope that this guide has helped you learn more about what to expect and to navigate this stressful and confusing time. If you suspect that your family or friend is living with a drug or alcohol addiction, we can help. As a family treatment center, we have the expertise and resources necessary to help your entire family get on the path towards healing.

Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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