Effects of Drug & Alcohol Abuse on the Family

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The effect of drug and alcohol abuse on a family is evident whether a child is abusing drugs or a parent is abusing. Family structures have become more complex and the effects of drug abuse on families will also be impacted by different structures, such as step families, multi-generational or single-parent. According to Phoenix House Center on Addiction and the Family, the effect of drug abuse on a family isn’t identical from home to home.

Communication and Interaction

According to the National Library of Medicine there are several patterns of interaction in families where drug abuse is present, whether the abuser is a child or a parent. Communication within the family may be negative and the overall mood is often depressed. Rules are erratically set and enforced by the parents, which confuses the children. The result can be bad behavior as children try to get any attention possible without being able to adequately gauge parental behavior. Parents may deny the problem in their spouse or their children and have unrealistic expectations. In some cases drug abuse is a result of self-medication to cope with severe anxiety or depression.


According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, an increasing number of grandparents are now functioning as the primary care givers because substance abusing parents are unable to care for their own children. These children who are raised exclusively by grandparents are also at higher risk for developing drug abuse problems. This may be because the grandparents originally raised the children who had an increased risk for abuse and are now raising the grandchildren in the same environment. According to the Phoenix House Center on Addiction and the Family, a parent’s problem with abuse can result in a child’s health problems from stress-related illnesses, such as headaches, gastrointestinal disturbances or migraines, and because of inadequate supervision.

Financial Impact

If you abuse drugs, you have a higher risk of losing your job than an individual who does not use drugs. Instability, long-term unemployment and accidents or injuries at work put families under great financial stress. According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, other family members may have to work harder outside the home to make up for the lost wages of the abuser.

Impact on Adult Relationships

According to The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, there is a shift in roles inside a family experiencing drug abuse that may result in unhappy marriages, physical abuse, sexual abuse or divorce. Even when substance abuse does not end the marriage it may negatively affect its quality. Divorce will increase the risk that children will experience substance abuse and is related to increased levels of partner violence in the home.

Impact on Relationships with Children

According to the Phoenix House Center on Addiction and the Family children endure suffering, confusion and pain in their homes. However, despite the situation children will often blame themselves for their parent’s substance abuse believing that if they didn’t fight or kept their rooms clean then their parents wouldn’t use drugs. Children are frightened, may witness violence and may also suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder with sleep disturbances, anxiety and depression that are associated with victims of crimes. Children in homes where there is reduced stability are also at a higher risk for sexual abuse. Normal relationship lines are blurred and communication has broken down, leading to behavior that would not normally be allowed.