Effects on the family
How drugs affect families
This section looks at the effects on the family when someone is abusing alcohol or other drugs. In many cases the person is not an addict or an alcoholic. They are just drinking or taking drugs in a way which upsets others. With this in mind we look at the following five scenarios:
- How a parent with a drug or alcohol problem affects the whole family
- How a partner with a drug or alcohol problem affects the other partner
- How a parent's addiction may affect their son or daughter
- How a son or daughter with an addiction problem affects the whole family
- Family support
How a parent with a drug or alcohol problem affects the whole family
It is well known that a parent with a drug or alcohol problem can have a negative effect on their family members. You could say that the person with the problem is like someone stuck in a bog. The other family members, in their efforts to help, often get pulled down into the bog too. The first step in putting things right is when the others start to get their own feet on solid ground. Only after they have done this will they be able to help tackle the addiction problem.
Sharon Wegscheider (USA) has pointed out some of the ways in which other family members can be affected. (Reference: Sharon Wegscheider, The Family, Trap Johnson Institute, Minnesota U.S.A., 1976).
How a partner with a drug or alcohol problem affects the other partner
It is not easy to live with a person whose drinking or drug use is causing problems. The drinker or drug user is often full of conflict, torn between wanting their drug or alcohol and not wanting the harm that always seems to follow. They often blame others when things go wrong.
The partner or spouse of the addict or alcoholic often doubts themselves: Am I not a good enough partner? How can I get them to stop taking that drug? How can I protect my children? How can I hide this from my family and neighbours?
The partner often feels hurt, ashamed, afraid, and has an overwhelming sense of failure. Unfortunately, many partners then work even harder to ‘fix’ the situation, taking on extra responsibilities, trying to cover up the mess… fighting a losing battle.
If you are that partner, the first step towards putting things right is to take some time for yourself, and get the support you need. A good friend or a counsellor can be a great help. See ‘family support’ below.
How a parent's addiction may affect their son or daughter
The son or daughter of a parent abusing alcohol or drugs can also end up bogged down. They often adopt a role which helps the family, but they may get stuck in the role and neglect their own needs. Sharon Wegscheider describes some of these roles. Can you see yourself in one of these roles, or in elements of a couple of them? You can change! It’s easier if you get support.
The Family HeroThis is often the eldest in the family. This person is responsible, works hard for approval, and often appears successful. But inside, this person often feels insecure, as if things are always going to go wrong, and feels incompetent, confused and angry.
The ScapegoatThis person feels blamed when things go wrong. Everyone focuses on this person’s faults, which provides the family with a distraction from the real problem. So this person often seems rebellious, troublesome, law-breaking, tough… and may be at risk of abusing drugs themselves. Inside, this person is often full of fear, hurt, rejection and loneliness, feeling angry at the unfairness of how they are treated.
The Lost ChildThis son or daughter appears as a dreamer, drifting above the troubled waters that bother other people. But inside, the person is not as contented as they appear. They are quietly hurt, angry, lonely, with a feeling of being inadequate.
The MascotSometimes also referred to as the clown, the person in this role is often charming and cute, fun to be with, quick to make a joke. Sometimes they are quite hyper-active and flit from one interest to another; sometimes quite fragile and easily hurt. But they are good at hiding the hurt, and other feelings of loneliness, insecurity, fear and low self-esteem.
If you recognise any of these roles as being ‘you’, the first step to putting things right is to take time for yourself, to talk to a friend or a counsellor. Stop thinking about the addicted person for a while (easier said than done!) and pay attention to your own real needs. See the ‘family support’ section below.
How a son or daughter with an addiction affects the whole family
Whole families can seem to go to pieces when there is a son or daughter using drugs or alcohol. Parents fall out with each other over how to handle the situation, while other sons or daughters can get blamed for being a bad example. The drug user gets so much attention that others are neglected. Rows and bad language upset the peace. If peace and love are the oxygen of life, then the whole family is gasping for breath.
In an airplane, if the oxygen masks are released, parents are supposed to put on their own masks before attending to their children’s masks. The same is true here. You must look after your own needs before helping the one causing the problem.
Even if you are the only person in the family who recognises the alcohol or drug problem, it is worth while getting support for yourself, from a friend or a trusted teacher or a counsellor.
Support for families is available from a number of sources:
The National Family Support Network has a network of family support groups throughout Ireland. Family support groups have helped many families to hold their heads up again, when they had been bowed down with embarrassment and shame due to a son or daughter using drugs and causing trouble for neighbours. For more information on The National Family Support Network visit their website at www.fsn.ie or call (01) 8980148.
Community Alcohol Services and Community Drug Services are run by the HSE and are generally free. Many provide support and information for families to maintain their dignity and sanity when a family member is abusing drugs or alcohol.
Many addiction treatment services provide support for families.
See the Drugs.ie Services Directory for a list of services.