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Addiction: Tearing Families Apart

Although addiction affects everyone differently, the factors that contribute to the development of it remain the same. For some, a genetic predisposition renders them particularly susceptible to addiction, more likely due to a confluence of biological factors to become addicted once they experiment with that kind of behavior. Environmental factors can also cause a person to develop a substance use disorder. No matter which way someone becomes addicted, families will be hurt.

This refers to the combination of family and addiction in the household, being part of a peer group that consists of recreational drug users, living in a community in which substance abuse is common, and mind-altering substances are readily available, and so on. 

However, the final ingredient for the development of addiction rests in the individual’s behaviors and depends on whether he or she begins to experiment with recreational intoxication and substance abuse. 

More often than not, it’s a combination of these factors—the genetic, environmental, and behavioral—that result in a person developing an addiction, physically and psychologically depending on behaviors or mind-altering substances.

When an individual struggles with addiction, he or she experiences many profound effects. Dependence on destructive behaviors and substances can cause an array of health effects, causing an individual to experience rapid weight loss or even emaciation. 

Depending on the substance, the individual might be putting themselves at risk of contracting diseases such as HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) or AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).

What’s more, addiction causes a degradation in character and behavior, which may result in criminal behavior, and the damage or even destruction to important relationships. The extent of damage felt by the loved ones abusing substances is often underestimated. 

Family members, friends, coworkers, and other loved ones often watch as their addicted loved one continues on a self-destructive path, feeling helpless to stop it. The many effects of addiction can result in immeasurable damage to families, making it challenging to remain supportive and encouraging to the one who’s dependent on alcohol and drugs.


Just as people aren’t born addicted to alcohol, drugs, or harmful behaviors, loved ones don’t develop an addiction overnight. The precursor to addiction is often recreational substance abuse, but it’s also common for individuals prescribed controlled substances for legitimate conditions to begin abusing those drugs, developing dependency in the process.

No matter how addiction develops, there’s often an initial period during when the individual who is developing an addiction does so largely without the notice of other members of the family. 

As an individual’s recreational substance abuse begins to give way to addiction, his or her tolerance for the substance of choice increases, resulting in the need to consume more of the substance to achieve the desired effects. This often coincides with the individual beginning to display abnormal behaviors.

However, these behaviors often begin infrequently and grow slowly, steadily more frequent, which causes the family to develop a tolerance to these behaviors and makes them somewhat less noticeable. 

In plainer terms, this might mean an individual slowly withdraws from the family to an increasing extent, but the family doesn’t really notice since the affected family member withdraws little by little over time.

As the family member becomes increasingly preoccupied with his or her substance abuse, the behaviors worsen and become more prominent, causing family members to worry. 

This is often the point during which trouble at work or school begins, or perhaps even legal difficulties if the abnormal behaviors are criminally punishable. It’s also during this period that a family decides—either consciously or unconsciously—how they are going to handle or cope with the individual’s growing addiction.

The response can be to deny the reality or severity of the problem, to adopt a zero-tolerance stance, and so on. Relatives often suffer physically, psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, in their work, and in many other ways, which might initiate feelings of resentment toward the affected family member.

Over time, the situation becomes more serious. Many people with a substance use disorder resort to criminal behavior to sustain their addictions, which typically includes lying to and stealing from their loved ones. 

This causes family members and friends a direct financial hardship that often leads to a breaking point. If the individual remains unwilling to admit the nature of his or her problem, accept responsibility for his or her actions, and receive treatment for addiction, the result is often that the family implodes.

The individual with the addiction might be forced to move out of the home and lose family support. This can have many consequences. The individual may not yet have lived on their own or has a minimal work history. This could mean people in this situation will have to fend for themselves without having any time to prepare for the transition.


The combination of family and addiction can result in dire consequences. Perhaps the biggest risk is the possibility that it results in other members of the family developing an addiction.

Research has indicated time and again that individuals are significantly more likely to develop an addiction whenit runs in the family or when they have been exposed to it in their childhood and adolescent years. 

For this reason, it’s important to address the issue of a loved one struggling with a substance use disorder and prevent the situation from causing additional hardships.

When a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, it’s common for family members to orchestrate an intervention. Often, with the help of an intervention specialist or interventionist, the family gathers to confront the person with the addiction in an empathetic, non-aggressive way to express their thoughts and feelings. 

Each person shares how they have been affected by that person’s dependency and encourages the person to break free from the chains of addiction.

With adequate preparation, interventions have been proven to have an admirable rate of success. Additionally, when a member of the family struggles with addiction, it’s important to outline consequences for the behavior if it continues and/or should the individual choose to deny the reality of dependency and refuse to participate in family treatment.

If you or a family member are abusing drugs or alcohol, we can help. The caring, professional staff at Arete Recovery are here to help those who want to end their dependence or addiction. Our staff is educated in working with families where substance use is tearing the family unit apart. Call us today for information


Bertrand T

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