Drug Addiction and the Family

Drug addiction has a serious impact on every member of a family. On the other hand, family dynamics and factors in the home environment can contribute to addiction in one member. Trauma, substance use, lack of involvement, conflict, and more in the home can increase the risk that a young person will develop an addiction. And, when one or more people in the family already has an addiction it can lead to neglect, abuse, injuries, difficulty in school, and so many other problems. The good news is that professional treatment can help, not just the person with the addiction but the entire family.

Addiction is often called a family disease and with good reason. Not only does a substance use disorder in one person affect every other member of the family, but there are often risk factors, triggers, and causes of addiction that originate in family dynamics. Parents can help protect their children and lower their risks of having a later substance use disorder by knowing what the risk factors are and creating a better home and family life. It is also important to help protect other members of the family when one person is struggling with addiction, while taking steps to push the addict to get treatment.

How Family Can Contribute to Drug Addiction


To say that family causes addiction in a person is too simplistic. There are plenty of people with difficult family dynamics who never develop a substance use disorder. But, many of the risk factors that increase the chances that a person will struggle with addiction are related to family and home:

  • Family history. This is a big predictor of addiction for several reasons. One is that there are likely genetic components of addiction that are passed down in families. Also, living with or being around someone who uses drugs can cause the kind of instability that may lead to experimentation with drugs.
  • An unstable home life or uninvolved parents. When one or more parents use drugs or alcohol, struggles with addiction, fights, is a victim of domestic violence, or has a mental illness, home life can become unstable. This is a risk factor for substance use and addiction, as is having parents who are not involved or having poor attachment to parents.
  • The experience of trauma. Traumatic experiences can contribute to later substance use as a coping mechanism, and unfortunately many children undergo trauma in the home. This may be emotional or physical abuse, sexual abuse, or neglect.
  • Ongoing stress. Sometimes a family environment causes persistent stress that can’t be classified as trauma. Over time, though, these factors, such as living in poverty, having a parent or sibling with mental illness, having a family member with a serious illness, or moving often can cause enough stress to increase the risk of later addiction.
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How Addiction Affects the Family


Addiction in the family is a two-way street. The family can contribute to addiction but is also negatively impacted by it. There are many ways in which each member experiences the negative consequences of addiction, including:

  • Poor communication
  • Reduced intimacy between partners
  • An unsafe environment for children
  • Health risks for children
  • Inconsistent parenting, even abuse by parents
  • Neglect of other siblings
  • Fighting and conflict
  • Difficulties in school, behavior issues in children
  • Difficulty socializing and developing friendships for children
  • Alienation from adult children
  • Legal and financial problems
  • Development of mental illnesses, like anxiety and depression
  • Risk of future substance use disorder

These are just some examples of how members of a family from partners to children, at any age, can be impacted by addiction. The ripple effect can be extensive, expanding to affect a person’s life long after they have moved on from their family, impacting relationships, mental health, and overall well-being.

Getting Help


When addiction impacts your family it can seem hopeless, but help is available and treatment for everyone can be effective. Rehab and treatment centers can help the individual who struggles with addiction, guiding them to recovery and long-term sobriety. Treatment professionals can also engage the whole family. Family and addiction therapists help families recognize the factors that have contributed to and maintained one member’s addiction and help them make positive change going forward.

If you or someone in your family is struggling with addiction, reach out to a treatment center for help. Addiction professionals can help you see the extent to which family contributes to and is harmed by substance use disorder and can help you take steps to turn it around and heal your family.