Drug addiction affects the entire family, from parents to children, brothers to sisters, and sometimes even close friends. While substance abuse affects each family differently, there are many common adversities among families facing drug addiction, including financial difficulties, legal issues, educational disparities, emotional distress, and domestic violence.
Loving someone struggling with addiction can be incredibly difficult, painful, and chaotic. Because drug addiction impacts the whole family, treating the addicted person alone is usually not enough to create lasting change in a family unit.1
Support groups are a vital resource for families of drug addicts. Family members may experience a variety of emotional responses to their loved one’s drug addiction, including guilt, shame, anxiety, grief, and anger. Support groups facilitated by a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, or addictions counselor can help family members process and heal any emotional wounds they may have as a result of the addiction surrounded by the support of peers who are experiencing similar family difficulties. They can help validate these normal emotional responses and share what they’ve done to deal with them, including getting their own therapy and setting healthy boundaries with their addicted loved one.
Several support groups offer services across the U.S. specifically geared toward families of individuals battling drug addiction or alcoholism, including:
Al-Anon Family Groups: Al-Anon is a worldwide fellowship program for families and friends of alcoholics. The program does not focus on trying to get a loved one to stop compulsive drinking, but instead addresses common problems that loved ones of alcoholics face.
Nar-Anon Family Groups: Nar-Anon is a 12-step program for anyone who is affected by another person’s addiction. Loved ones are able to address the struggles they face through a structured, step-by-step process surrounded by others fighting similar battles who can encourage them.
Families Anonymous: Families Anonymous is another 12-step program for families and friends of people with drug addiction and related problems. Anyone who is concerned about the destructive behavior of a loved one is welcome to attend.
Learn to Cope: Learn to Cope is a peer support group for families affected by drug addiction. They offer local face-to-face meetings at several locations throughout Massachusetts, New Jersey, Florida, and Idaho, in addition to myriad online support resources and forums.
Smart Recovery Family and Friends: SMART Recovery is a science-based, secular alternative to programs like Al-Anon. They offer a variety of online support group meetings for family and friends of addicted loved ones. They also have face-to-face meetings in select cities across the United States and Canada.
GRASP: Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing: GRASP was founded to provide support, compassion, and resources to those coping with the loss of a loved one due to substance abuse or addiction. They offer a variety of online resources as well as local charters across the U.S. that offer face-to-face support groups.
Dealing with a Drug Addict or Alcoholic Spouse
All of the support groups listed above provide supportive services to spouses and other family members of addicted people.
There are also supportive programs available exclusively for spouses, including:
- Recovering Couples Anonymous: Recovering Couples Anonymous is a support program that uses the principles of AA but is not affiliated with Alcoholics’ Anonymous. They provide support groups for any couple who is suffering from addictions or other dysfunctions that are impacting their intimate relationships. The only requirement to join Recovering Couples is that the couple is committed to remain together and work on improving their relationship and deepening their intimacy with one another. They are currently offering meetings in 15 U.S. states.
- Al-Anon for Spouses and Partners: In some locations, Al-Anon offers special support programs for spouses and romantic partners of individuals with alcoholism. Check their website to find out what programs may be available near you.
Support Groups for Siblings
While it is common knowledge that addiction takes a toll on all members of a family, siblings are rarely spoken of when it comes to drug addiction. It isn’t easy being the sibling of someone with a substance abuse problem, whether it’s alcohol or drugs that they abuse.
Drug addiction and abuse can affect the lives of siblings in many ways. For some, it may put a strain on the relationship and lead to complete separation, in some cases. For others, a sibling may end up unknowingly (or knowingly) enabling a brother or sister with substance abuse. Having an addicted sibling could mean another child is getting less attention or support from a parent. Many parents put so much energy into supporting and possibly enabling an addicted child that the other children become neglected.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many resources available exclusively to siblings. But most family support programs are open to siblings as well as other family members. Some of the resources available for siblings include:
SHARC Sibling Support Program: The SHARC Sibling Support Program is an Australian program that formally acknowledges that siblings were previously all but invisible to alcoholism and drug addiction support services around the country. The purpose of the Sibling Support Program is to address the unique needs of siblings of addicted loved ones by offering online support, shared stories, videos, fact sheets, and toolkits specifically for siblings of alcoholics and addicted persons—which are available to siblings anywhere (not just in Australia).
Al-Anon for Siblings: Al-Anon understands that it can be painful and traumatic to watch a brother or sister suffer from alcoholism. They provide siblings access to stories written by other siblings of addicted loved ones as a means of peer support and insight. Depending on your location, they may have face-to-face support programs available in your area as well.
Resources for Parents Struggling with a Child’s Addiction
Watching a child suffer through addiction can be incredibly painful for any parent. Parents are natural protectors who are biologically wired to help their offspring and protect them from harm. It is no surprise that many parents with good intentions end up enabling their child’s addictive behaviors when what they truly want is to simply end their pain and suffering.
There are many resources and support programs available across the country for parents of addicted children including:
Parents of Addicted Loved Ones (PALS): PALS is an excellent resource for parents struggling to cope with a child’s addiction. Not only do they offer face-to-face support groups across the country, but they have a wealth of online resources and educational information that parents can access 24/7. PALS helps parents deal with the pain of loving an addicted child and teaches them how to change the way they relate to their child’s struggles. Michael Speakman, founder of PALS states, “When we focus on changing the way we help our loved one, rather than trying to change them, it gives us realistic hope.”
Al-Anon for Parents: Al-Anon also offers support groups specifically for parents in some locations. They also have a collection of inspiring online support stories available on their website, written by parents of addicted people for other parents of addicted people.
Children of Parents with Abuse and Addiction Problems
Of all family members, children may be most impacted by substance abuse and addiction. Children of drug addicts often grow up in a chaotic world full of stress, traumatic experiences, and confusion. Drug addiction can take over a person’s life and prevent them from being a good parent to their children. Children of addicts may be neglected, abused, ignored, dismissed, or fully abandoned. A painful childhood can continue to haunt children of addicts for years to come as they heal from the emotional wounding of their parent’s addiction.
Addiction can even take a toll on adult children, when parents start abusing drugs after their children have already left the house and started lives of their own. These children may end up dealing with their parent’s addiction in a variety of ways. They may have excessive concern and worry over the parent’s condition and health. Some may end up covering the costs of living for parents who have financial struggles due to their addiction. Others may take care of a parent who is left with permanent brain damage after a nearly fatal overdose.
No matter the individual circumstances, addiction can take a toll on children of all ages. There are a variety of support programs and resources available not only to young children, but also to adult children of addicted parents. Some of which include:
Adult Children of Alcoholics: Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) is a 12-step support program for adults who grew up in dysfunctional homes with alcoholic or drug-addicted parents. The program operates under the principle that family dysfunction is a disease that can affect a person, both as a child and well into adulthood. In addition to supporting adult children of alcoholics and drug addicts, ACA also provides support services for children who grew up in a dysfunctional home, whether or not drugs or alcohol were present.
It offers group meetings in person, as well as over the phone, online, and through Skype. It also offers myriad literature and resources on its website.
National Association for Children of Alcoholics: The National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACA) is another supportive resource for the children of alcoholics as well as parents addicted to other drugs. The organization advocates on behalf of children and works to increase public awareness, improve public policies, and provide adequate educational and preventive services. It offers a variety of resources on its website as well.
- Lander, L., Howsare, J. & Byrne, M. (2013). The Impact of Substance Use Disorders on Families and Children: From Theory to Practice. Social Work Public Health, 28(0), 194–205.