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When someone is struggling with a substance use disorder (SUD), it can be an agonizing personal battle. However, at the same time, it has the potential to affect so many others. For example, substance abuse impacts families in multiple ways. Rather than being a source of safety and comfort, your family can be a confusing, destructive, and abusive presence.

Issues like fear, anger, betrayal, mistrust, and more swirl around the family unit. The cycle of addiction can tear apart loved ones. Thus, it is essential that you understand more about this challenging scenario when trying to manage the fallout.

How Common in Underage Substance Abuse?

At least 20 percent of children have a parent who abuses alcohol or drugs. We’ll dig deeper into how this affects such kids but first, let’s lay out some eye-opening numbers about Americans over the age of 12:

  • In the past 30 days, 1 in 10 have used an illegal drug
  • Nearly 140 million identify as “heavy drinkers”
  • Roughly 61 million definite themselves as “binge drinkers”
  • 21.5 million have a SUD (2.6 million abuse both drugs and alcohol)
  • In the underage category, 30 percent of Americans partake in binge drinking

Statistics like this help highlight the urgent need for addressing this crisis.

The Effect Substance Abuse Has On Families

It Alters the Lives of Young Children

They are neglected. Their parents are often so focused on feeding their addiction that basic parental care does not occur. Children in this environment are:

  • More likely to be exposed to violence or sexual abuse
  • Led toward eventually trying drugs and/or alcohol
  • Raised to feel not worthy of attention or nurturing
  • More likely to have academic and behavioral problems at school
  • Uncomfortable making friends and cultivating a healthy social life
  • Subject to learning disabilities and emotional disorders

Loss of Trust

Regardless of their intentions, an addict is not trustworthy. They break promises and let loved ones down. The family lives in a climate of mistrust and uncertainty. Such a climate creates resentment, tension, guilt, shame, and dysfunction.


As touched on above, the home of an addict can be a dangerous place. Disagreements escalate into major fights. Physical, emotional, and sexual abuse are thus more likely. Someone with SUD tends to associate with other addicts and this increases the danger for those in the home — especially the children.

Financial Stress

If your addicted family member is neglecting domestic responsibilities, they are almost certainly dropping the ball elsewhere. Firstly, they need to pay for the substances they crave. This can lead them to make some very unfortunate decisions. These choices put them and those around them at risk. Basic needs like food, rent, electricity, etc. go unmet. Another source of financial stress can be the cost of legal issues stemming from the addiction.

General Stress 

What should be a safe space for loved ones transforms into a chaotic cycle of confusion. Some family members live in fear — walking on eggshells. Others may become enablers while some will lash in anger. All of this eliminates the possibility of joy in being part of your family life.

Another major casualty is communication. Honest conversation is a non-entity and yelling replaces any kind of healthy communication. This reduces the odds of finding solutions or moving the addict toward rehabilitation.

All is Not Lost

Each and every day, addicts find ways to recover. As dark as the descriptions above may sound, families can heal. They can thrive again. But this process requires the help, guidance, and support of a skilled professional. I urge you to reach out to learn more and get this process started. I also work with client who are living in or grew up in families where substance abuse was/is occurring and need help moving forward.  Let’s connect soon for a free and confidential consultation.

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Therapy for Men is a practice led by Dr. Rick Pomfret which offers counseling and psychotherapy services tailored to the needs of men. Their services encompass anxiety therapy, depression therapy, relationship therapy, men’s issues and support for those navigating life transitions or divorce. With offices in San Francisco and Corte Madera, Therapy4Men provides convenient access to mental health care for men in the Bay Area and online across California.