Addiction and the family

Drug abuse puts a lot of unwanted stress on families. On mums, dads, siblings, grandparents - in fact it puts stress on anyone who is part of the drug user's life. It is thought that on average up to 12 people are negatively affected by one person's addiction. 

Some of the things family members may experience when a loved one uses drugs or alcohol are:

  • They can no longer count on them to do the things they say they will do.
  • They may become aware that their family member is stealing to buy substances.
  • They may become aware their family member is telling lies to cover up what they are doing.
  • They might experience them being arrested and convicted for crimes they are committing to buy drugs.
  • They may experience them getting drink/drug driving convictions.
  • They may experience them not coming home when they say they say they will. 
  • They may experience them behaving in ways that they don't recognise. 
  • They may experience them becoming more aggressive in their desire to deny there is a problem. 

The main thing that family members report happening to them is that they doubt their own experiences. Addicts are often master manipulators. They will deny there is a problem to the end of the earth making it seem like family members are going mad when you confront their reality. They will tell the family member that it's them that has the problem. That they are paranoid, making things up, persecuting them. it often suits the purpose of the addict to be 'the victim' as they can then blame everyone else for their behaviour whilst taking no personal responsibility for their behaviours.

Often it takes a serious incident to occur for the family members to really accept there is a problem despite what their loved one has been telling them. Family members also experience denial of the addiction in the same way that the addict themselves does. Many family members struggle to accept there is a problem due to embarrassment, shame and fear of stigma. It is often a great relief when a family member feels safe enough to tell another person what is going on in their family. They need to feel safe and believe they are not going to judged when they expose some of their deepest darkest secrets and fears.

Helping family members understand the nature of addiction and its origins allows them to recognise it's not their fault and that their responsibility is to look after their own well-being first and foremost. It is often in this process of looking after themselves that their family member starts to recognise they are in fact responsible for their own recovery.

No family members should have their lives torn apart by addiction - but they are. Every day families in the Hale, Wilmslow area of Cheshire call addiction specialists and ask for help. Addiction knows no boundaries - it affects middle class, affluent families in just the same way as it tears any other family apart. There is often a fallacy surrounding addiction that it only affects the poorer sections of society. Addiction does not care what colour, class or creed you are. It is an illness not a moral weakness. It has to be treated professionally just as the family needs to be treated professionally in order for the whole family to get well. 

If you are affected by a loved one's use of substance please understand that you also deserve help.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Hale WA15 & Wilmslow SK9
Written by Victoria Abadi, PG Dip Counselling, MBACP, FDAP Specialist Addiction Counsellor
Hale WA15 & Wilmslow SK9

I have worked in the field of addiction for the past 24 years and have been a qualified counsellor for the past 18 years. I specialise in issues directly associated with and surrounding addiction. I am a qualified post graduate counsellor and registered member of the BACP and certified member of FDAP(Federation for drug and alcohol practitioner)

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