How Substance Use Affects Loved Ones

in Addiction
Morgan Metzger
Published Jan 22, 2021
How Substance Use Affects Loved Ones

Substance use has a significant impact on family systems. Dangers of substance use in families may include problems with communication, money, and parenting styles. Due to this, family members may form resentments, and children in addictive homes may grow up to use substances themselves. When drugs or alcohol come in contact with the brain, the chemistry within changes, often leading to behavioral changes in an individual. However, with substance use detox and treatment, family systems can reach a point of healing the damaged bonds.

Substance Use in a Family With Children

Many children in homes where there is substance use may feel guilty and responsible for their parent’s drug or alcohol problems. The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) suggests that substance use in the house has detrimental effects on children. It may impair learning capacity, create a predisposition to developing substance use disorder, increase rates of divorce, violence, and the need for control. Along with these, substance use may also cause depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem in children. Substance use problems in parents can cause cognitive, behavioral, psychosocial, and emotional consequences that affect the entire family.

Children may also experience Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACEs. ACES are potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood. A child’s environment, including living in a home where substance misuse is present, can undermine their sense of stability, safety, and bonding. ACEs are linked to chronic health problems, mental illness, and substance misuse in adulthood.

Substance Use in a Home Alone or With a Partner

The NCBI states that the consequences of living alone or with a partner while using substances are more likely to be economical and psychological. Money may be spent on drugs and alcohol, leading to a partner assuming all financial responsibility. Psychological consequences may include protecting the individual struggling with substance use, chronic anger, stress, anxiety, hopelessness, inappropriate sexual behavior, neglected health, shame, and isolation.

The Problem of Codependency

When a loved one is struggling with substance use, an individual may develop codependency. Codependency is being overly concerned with another’s problems to the detriment of attending to one’s own needs and wants. Those struggling with codependency may be controlling because they believe that others cannot take care of themselves. They may also have low self-esteem, deny their feelings, be excessively compliant, and compromise their values and integrity to avoid rejection or anger. Oversensitivity is common in codependency, as an individual may be hypervigilant to disruption, troubles, or disappointment.

There are several groups that an individual can attend to help with codependency, including:

  • Al-Anon
  • Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA)
  • Adult Children of Alcoholics
  • Families Anonymous
  • Co-Anon
The Effects of Substance Use on the Brain

Substance use dramatically affects the brain, changing the behaviors of an individual who uses drugs or alcohol. When a substance is taken, the brain is flooded with dopamine, a neurotransmitter regulating emotion, motivation, and feelings of pleasure. Using drugs or alcohol can cause moments of extreme happiness that rapidly crash when the effects of the drug wear off. As the desire for a substance increases, an individual will need more and more of a drug to continue to feel its euphoric effects. An individual may continue to use but never achieve the same feelings as their very first high.

Excessive substance use may lead to substance use disorder (SUD). There are 11 criteria for SUD, including:

  1. Taking a substance in larger amounts or for longer than an individual is meant to
  2. Wanting to cut down or stop using a substance but not managing to
  3. Spending significant amounts of time getting, using, or recovering from the use of a substance
  4. Cravings and urges to use a substance
  5. Not managing to complete tasks at work, home, or school because of substance use
  6. Continuing to use, even when it causes problems in relationships
  7. Giving up important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of substance use
  8. Using substances again and again, even when it puts the individual in danger
  9. Continuing to use, even when the individual knows they have a physical or psychological problem that could have been caused or worsened by a substance
  10. Needing more of the substance to get the desired effects (tolerance)
  11. Development of withdrawal symptoms

These criteria are divided into four categories: impaired control, social impairment, risky use, and pharmacological indicators (tolerance and withdrawal). The severity of the SUD is then determined by the number of criteria the individual meets:

  • Mild: 2 or 3 criteria out of 11
  • Moderate: 4 or 5 criteria out of 11
  • Severe: 6 or more criteria out of 11
There is Hope

The first step in healing the family is to stop using substances. Once you complete detox, Gallus Medical Detox Centers provides you with a biopsychosocial exam to determine your next steps in the recovery process. Aftercare can include finding a residential treatment center that offers family therapy or other resources that will help you regain familial relationships. Despite any effects substance use has had on loved ones, there is hope for healing.

Not only does substance use affect an individual, but it also affects the entire family system. Children with parents suffering from substance use disorder may experience emotional, cognitive, and behavioral consequences. The partners of those suffering may have economic or psychological problems and many people with loved ones suffering from substance use may also develop codependency. Substance use disorder dramatically affects the brain, which may lead to the development of substance use disorder (SUD). This causes significant behavioral changes that affect loved ones. The first step in recovering from SUD and healing the family unit is withdrawing from drugs or alcohol. Withdrawal symptoms may be frightening, uncomfortable, and even life-threatening. However, Gallus Medical Detox Centers can help. We use proprietary, evidence-based medical protocols that prioritize our patients’ comfort and safety to guide them through the detox process. Our personalized treatment is delivered in a safe and peaceful environment. If you or a loved one struggle with SUD, call us at (866) 296-5242 for help.