While overcoming substance abuse is often considered a personal struggle that affects only the user, in the context of a family setting, drug and alcohol abuse can negatively impact the whole family.
There are many ways the presence of drugs and alcohol can disrupt a household. It can destroy relationships, raise stress levels and tension, cause financial instability, and even lead to family members having to relocate on a temporary or permanent basis.
With around 3.1 million Australians reported using illicit drugs in 2016, it’s vital that you know how to identify the early signs of trouble. This way, you can quickly pinpoint the source of the problem, and approach the situation in a way that helps a user realise the consequences of their actions and get the help they need to recover.
Addiction occurs when an individual compulsively partakes in acts such as drinking, gambling, gaming, or using drugs. Without proper help or support, these individuals will continue to indulge in these self-destructive acts despite all of the obvious side effects and consequences, like losing, or hurting loved ones and themselves.
Here are just some of the many ways that substance abuse can affect both users and family members.
Increased Stress and Tension in the Household
Witnessing a loved one struggle with substance abuse can be incredibly stressful for people watching from the outside in.
Some people may feel helpless with their inability to help the other person. They might shy away from the idea of talking to the person out of fear of rejection. Or, if they do try to open up a conversation about substance abuse, and their attempts fail, it can increase feelings of helplessness and cause them to lose hope.
Neither situation is ideal, as doing nothing about the problem can be just as damaging as trying to confront the situation head-on. As a result of this ‘gridlock’, nothing gets resolved and the feeling of resentment between family members only grows.
Furthermore, knowing that someone they care about is struggling can make it harder for others to resume their daily lives. This can potentially disrupt other people’s education, career, and caregiving and social obligations. As a result, the entire household begins to fall apart.
Other Family Members Get Involved
One of the worst-case scenarios of substance abuse is when other people start joining in.
There are many ways drug use can spread. For example, an older sibling may encourage a younger brother or sister to partake. A parent may inadvertently promote the idea of drug use to their children, which increases the risk of the children trying for themselves; without or without the parent’s knowledge or consent. Alternatively, a family member might take part in the drug use in order to ‘connect’ with the user and better understand their situation, but instead, they get sucked into the addictive nature of the substance.
Regardless of how other family members get involved, it’s important to stop the abuse from spreading. If you or other people start getting involved, seek advice from a drug rehab centre who can advise you on viable treatment options.
Family intervention, on the other hand, is a positive way to become involved, but you have to tread carefully and seek the proper advice before you engage in such an activity. One of the most common concerns about family interventions is that they are a betrayal by the people closest to the sufferer. People who are addicted to harmful substances are vulnerable, and family members believe that a confrontation will push them further away.
An intervention might not initially be met with resistance, anger, emotion, and rejection – and you need to be prepared for what to do if this does happen. If your intervention does not work the first time around, regroup, work out what wasn’t effective, and try again.
Increased Isolation or Absenteeism
Many drug and alcohol abusers try to isolate themselves from others in an attempt to hide their addiction. Or they lean on the support of an outside network who may not be a positive influence on their new lifestyle.
This kind of social withdrawal can occur in one of two ways, the user will either:
- Isolate themselves at home: Perhaps hiding away in their bedroom or spending lots of time ‘loafing’ around the house. They might also neglect their obligations and activities they once used to do such as going to work, school, TAFE or university, and hanging out with friends. Instead, they spend all their time at home and rarely go out.
- Spend increasingly more time away from home: On the other hand, a user may be noticeably absent from home on a frequent basis, perhaps even several days on end with little or no communication with the family. They might be out acquiring more drugs, going to parties, or hanging out with potentially dangerous people. As a result, they could be at a greater risk of trouble with the law, getting into conflict, or even overdosing.
Increased Strain on Household Finances
Whatever the drug of choice may be — whether it be alcohol, medicine, or illicit drugs — maintaining a drug addiction is incredibly expensive.
Not just because the product itself may be too expensive, but because the cost of maintaining this lifestyle means that there will be less money available for more essential goods like groceries, fuel, utility bills, rent, and other things like mortgage repayments.
As a result, this can place huge financial stress on the family finances. Other family members may need to pick up the slack to make ends meet. For example, give up more of their personal savings, picking up some extra shifts at work, or making some huge cutbacks on the weekly budget.
This is made especially worse when children are present, as they rely on healthy and functional parents and/or caregivers to provide them with a safe, comfortable living environment. So, when they cannot provide this benefit for their children, they end up suffering the most.
You’re Not Alone
If you or a loved one is in need of help, you should never think that you are alone. There are plenty of help to be found in your community and a lot more are going through the same thing as every day. Seek help and advice from your local rehab centers and help group in order to start the path to sobriety and a brighter future with your family.