Addiction is known as a family disease that can disrupt and sadly, destroy the nuclear family unit. Substance abuse and alcoholism are the results of a multi-dimensional problem often including genetic, environmental, physical, mental and emotional issues. The relationship between the family and the addict can be understood in the above-mentioned list.
“The ecological perspective on substance abuse views people as nested in various systems. Individuals are nested in families; families are nested in communities.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64269/ From this definition, it is clear that the rings of the circle surrounding the addict ripples out in all directions touching lives that the addict may not even know.
Addiction does not occur in a vacuum. If a parent or guardian is an active addict living with children, the chances of those children succumbing to addiction increase exponentially. If there is an unaddressed mental health issue within the family, the possibilities of addiction for both the caregiver and the person suffering from the unaddressed mental health issue increases as well.
The consequences of addiction reach far beyond the addict. The whole family unit may suffer from mental, physical and emotional deterioration due to active addiction. “The alcohol or drug user, as well as family members may bend, manipulate and deny reality in their attempt to maintain a family order that they experience as gradually slipping away. The entire system becomes absorbed by a problem that is slowly spinning out of control. Little things become big, and big things get minimized as pain is denied and slips out sideways.” https://www.ncadd.org/family-friends/there-is-help/family-disease
Consequences of Addiction on Families and Strangers
There are many ways in which alcohol and drugs negatively impact the members of a family. A quick look at a few examples reveals how profound the impact can be.
For example, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention:
- “Every day, 28 people in the United States die in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver. This is one death every 51 minutes. The annual cost of alcohol-related crashes totals more than $44 billion.”
What happens to the families of the alcohol-impaired driver? What of the family of the person killed in the alcohol-related motor-vehicle accident?
- Alcohol in the mother’s blood passes to the baby through the umbilical cord. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, and a range of lifelong physical, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities. These disabilities are known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). Children with FASDs might have the following characteristics and behaviors:
- Abnormal facial features, such as a smooth ridge between the nose and upper lip
- Small head size
- Shorter-than-average height
- Low body weight
- Poor coordination
- Hyperactive behavior
- Difficulty with attention
- Poor memory
- Difficulty in school (especially with math)
- Learning disabilities
- Speech and language delays
- Intellectual disability or low IQ
- Poor reasoning and judgment skills
- Sleep and sucking problems as a baby
- Vision or hearing problems
- Problems with the heart, kidney, or bones
How does the family support the medical, physical and intellectual needs of a child with FASD?
- A study of more than 6,000 first-graders across four U.S. communities has found that a significant number of the children have fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), with conservative rates ranging from 1 to 5 percent in community samples. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/research/major-initiatives
What is the cost to school systems and the community at large to ensure that teachers are trained to teach children with FASD?
- The cost of job loss and productivity has been also linked to costs associated with the criminal justice systems as well. According to a 2011 Department of Justice, report entitled, The Economic Impact of Illegal Drug Use on American Society, the cost of illicit drug use to the U.S. economy was $193 billion in 2007. Then, between 2007 and 2015, overdose deaths from illicit drug use rose 230%, indicating the cost rose to around $445 billion. These figures do not include the cost of 911 calls, emergency room visits, days of work lost for family members etc.
What is the cost to families for lost wages? Unemployment? or Disability due to addiction?
- Alcohol and drugs are implicated in an estimated 80% of offenses leading to incarceration in the United States such as domestic violence, driving while intoxicated, property offenses, drug offenses, and public-order offenses. https://www.ncadd.org/about-addiction/alcohol-drugs-and-crime
What are the medical costs, the psychological costs on families whose loved ones go to prison because of violence due to alcohol and drugs?
Benefits of Detox, Diagnosis, and Comprehensive Treatment Programs
The cost of maintaining an addiction (alcohol, drug addiction, gambling, shopping, pornography, etc.) can devastate a family’s finances. An active addict will have to feed his or her habit or face withdrawal. The symptoms of withdrawal are intense and in many cases, life-threatening. Because of this reality, the addict is driven to spend more money to support the addiction. Sadly, this often leads to other negative behaviors such stealing, robbing, or selling one’s body for drugs and alcohol.
Family members who are suffering from depression, anxiety, anger or other emotions due to an active addict need help as much as the addict. There is hope for both the family and the addict. Detox and diagnosis and a comprehensive, multidisciplinary team approach to a personalized treatment protocol can prove to be a favorable life-altering opportunity. Both the family and the addict need help to alter the family dynamic and stop destructive behavior (using for the addict and lying for the addict or enabling for the family). Trained therapists have multiple therapeutic modalities at their disposal to address the issues within the family.