The Emotional Toll of Drug and Alcohol Addictions on the Family

A drug and alcohol addiction can devastate a family dynamic. As a result of the drug and alcohol abuse, the addict may say or do things that he/she would normally not say or do. For instance, the addict may steal from family members, alienate himself/herself from loved ones or become abusive towards the people that love him/her most. In other words, the addict many become abusive, reclusive and/or emotionally detached. When an addict uses drugs and alcohol, his/her brain chemistry is altered. These physical changes can lead to a significant shift in the addict’s thought process, personality and behavior.

Living with a drug and alcohol addict can be especially taxing for a spouse and the children they share together. The spouse may become frustrated with his/her partner’s lack of concern for their marriage. In addition, the spouse may feel that the addict is emotionally abusive. He/she may not know how to cope with the addict’s mood swings and unpredictable behaviors. In many situations, the addict will blame his/her negative behaviors on the addiction, but this is just an excuse.

Children are also heavily affected by their parent’s drug and alcohol addiction. Children may plead with their parent to stop using drugs and alcohol, but it will probably fall on deaf ears, not because the parent does not want to stop, but because he/she can’t stop – at least not without professional help. The child’s age and maturity level will determine how well the child processes what is happening to his/her parent. Younger children, more than likely, will not be able to grasp the severity of the addiction, but older children will be able to pick up on drug and alcohol cues that signal an addiction. A drug and alcohol addiction can have long-lasting effects on older children. Research suggests that children who witness their parent’s drug and alcohol abuse have an elevated risk of abusing drugs and alcohol during adolescence and adulthood.

Research suggests that a drug and alcohol addiction can have a detrimental effect on the family. In a 2006 study, family members reported that a loved one’s drug and alcohol addiction negatively affected his/her psychological well-being and emotional health. In addition, approximately 40% of family members reported that they were extremely affected by their loved one’s addiction. Family members also reported that their loved one’s addiction caused conflict with other family members. Most family members reported that they were not financial impacted by their loved one’s addiction.

Furthermore, approximately 50% of family members reported that they were ashamed of their drug and alcohol addicted loved one. It did not appear to matter whether their loved one was addicted to drugs, alcohol or both. It is important to note that although family members admitted that they were ashamed of their addicted loved ones, only 20% reported that they hid the addiction from other family members and friends.


Research suggests that most family members have a negative reaction towards loved ones that are addicted to drugs and alcohol. Approximately 50% of spouses with an addicted spouse report feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, anger, anxiety, excessive worry and concern, irritability and/or despair.

Parents & Siblings

A recent study found that approximately 40% of children are negatively affected by their parent’s drug and alcohol addictions. Children with an addicted parent have an elevated risk of emotional instability. In addition, approximately 30% of parents experience emotional problems as a result of their child’s drug and alcohol abuse. Lastly, approximately 25% of siblings experience emotional upheaval as a result of their sibling’s drug and alcohol addiction.

Women & Men

Research suggests that women are more severely affected by a loved one’s drug and alcohol addiction then men. In a recent study, approximately 50% of women reported that that their loved one’s addiction had caused them psychological and emotional distress, while only 35% of men reported psychological and emotional distress.

In addition, 55% of women reported being ashamed of their addicted loved one, while only 40% of men admitted being ashamed. Furthermore, approximately 45% of men sought treatment for their emotional distress, while 65% of women sought professional help for the emotional problems.

Helping Your Loved One Find Treatment

If you suspect that a loved one is addicted to drugs and alcohol, it is important that you encourage him/her to seek treatment. Your loved one will resist at first, but it is important to be persistent. The hope is that with a little persistence, you addicted loved one will eventually give in to your pleas.

Once your loved one has agreed to treatment, it is paramount that you help him/her find the best drug and alcohol treatment center. The best treatment center will depend on a variety of factors such as: whether or not your loved one needs outpatient or residential treatment, the severity of the addiction, the types of drugs used, your loved one’s physical, emotional and psychological health, the frequency of the drug and alcohol use, your loved one’s history of drug and alcohol abuse, insurance benefits, family responsibilities and/or work obligations. The best thing you can do for your addicted loved one is help him/her research and visit various treatment centers. Once your addicted loved one has chosen the best treatment center for him/her and entered treatment, he/she will thank you for your concern, love and support.


Saad, L. (2006). Families of drug and alcohol abusers pay an emotional toll: Alcohol addiction just as upsetting as drugs. Gallup Wellbeing, 1-2.


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