Addiction and Judgment: What Happens to the Family Struggling with Addiction?

Girl drinking a cocktail with her friendWhen a family member is struggling with addiction the entire family system suffers. Life inside the family system can become a rollercoaster of emotions. It is common for parents to blame each other or themselves when their child is suffering from addiction. All family members are affected with the chaos that addiction brings to the family unit. Emotions often range from denial, grief, fear, anger, shame, and a tremendous sense of loss.

People are quick to judge an individual addicted to drugs or alcohol. They are often stereotyped. For example, the homeless man on the street, the drunk at the bar, or a prostitute. People may think that a person addicted to drugs or alcohol is a bad person. This is not true. Addiction is a disease, not caused by being a good or bad human being.

An Individual Addicted to Drugs and Alcohol maybe Closer to home than you think!

  • The young man in a fraternity that died of an oxycotin overdose.
  • A 16-year-old girl died from alcohol poisoning after the prom.
  • A 15-year-old girl died of a heroin overdose in the suburbs.
  • An 18-year-old young man died of an accidental drug overdose in his bed.

For these young people we may hear the following comments: “My kids would never take drugs! Where did he get that? How did his parents not know? Oxy is just a pain killer how could that kill him? He must have been from a bad family. His family did not care enough to pay attention to his mental health. He probably had problems his entire life. I’m glad my kids weren’t friends with someone like him. What a loser. What kind of college is that? I’m glad my kid just drinks and smokes weed! At least my daughter just gets drunk she doesn’t do drugs. My daughter said she never drinks. My son has too much going for him to consider taking drugs. If she has a drug problem why doesn’t she just quit? That person is weak it only takes will power to quit.”

These are some examples of people being judgmental without understanding the disease of drug and alcohol and addiction. The situation I am referring to is what happens to the family of the person struggling with addiction. Before jumping to conclusions and passing judgments on others it might be helpful to educate yourself and look at the other side of this painful situation.

Addiction to drugs and alcohol is a family disease and dealing with it effectively involves the whole family getting an understanding of the disease in order to deal with it as a united front. Individuals that are addicted to drugs and alcohol are typically bright smart people that are unfortunately affected by this cunning baffling and powerful disease.

It is important to remember that individuals that suffer with addiction can get help and learn to live in recovery.  Living in recovery does not mean that relapses will not occur. Addiction is a life long disease. If relapse occurs a person struggling with addiction can continue to fight this battle and be in recovery again. I believe it is important never to give up hope. It is also essential for the family of a person struggling with the disease of addiction to go on with their lives.

Individual and family therapy can be a useful coping tool and a helpful resource during this difficult time. Living with addiction in the family can be overwhelming. Practicing self-care is important for survival.  Attending Alanon family group is one way to help the family cope with this disease.

A common saying in Alanon is that it is important to “Place the oxygen mask on yourself first before you put it on someone else.”

© Copyright 2011 by Marty Devins Horvath,LMSW. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • lanny

    July 11th, 2011 at 11:48 PM

    stereotyping,pointing fingers at the family are not good things because really,it could happen to anyone!but educating the masses about these things will go a long way and will also help parents and families of addicts seek help rather than try to brush the addiction under the carpet!

  • cecelia

    July 12th, 2011 at 4:38 AM

    Someone has to be the blame but it is not the family. It is the addict himself. He is the one who has to be willing at some point to take responsibility for his actions and to make the change to get well. No one can do that for him. There could have been some circumstances that would drive him in the direction of addiction but he has no one to blame but himself.

  • Defoe

    July 12th, 2011 at 2:59 PM

    I think this blamin and finger pointing only spreads negative energy and hate all around.If someone’s an addict,then what’s your problem?If you’re not being bothered by that person then in my opinion you have ZERO right to even speak a word about the person.And to point fingers at someone’s family speak volumes about your ill-behavior and personality!

  • n.b.

    July 14th, 2011 at 8:31 PM

    My brother likes to blame my parents for his alcohol problem. He tells all kinds of lies about how they mistreated him as a child to anyone who will listen. I grew up in the same house and know that’s not true. Not one word of it. He has broken my mother’s heart with his cruel words and I’ll never forgive him for that.

    Addiction is caused by not being responsible, simple as that. If you drink to excess and become an alcoholic, then whose fault is it? Your own. No one is pouring the alcohol down your throat. There is not one time in your life you are at home alone and forced to drink. It’s a choice you make for yourself. Once it starts, it’s a slippery downhill slope.

    And for the families, it’s a living nightmare. You always think that happens in other families, not your own, until it does.

  • Janine B.

    July 14th, 2011 at 9:03 PM

    When I was a teenager many years ago a girl I knew in school was told constantly that alcohol was bad by her parents. She rebelled by sneaking it into her home and drinking secretly every chance she got – until she came to school drunk once. She was suspended for a month and told that she would be expelled if she came in smelling like cheap beer again.

    On the other hand a boy I knew drank openly at home, his parents drank, and he was never in any alcohol-related trouble because he knew how to handle it and was never seen drunk at school.

    Which of the two is more likely to become the alcoholic then? The girl with the parents that are ultra-strict about it or the other parents who allowed the boy to drink at home?

  • LaurenBarrow

    July 15th, 2011 at 7:40 PM

    As the daughter of an alcoholic father, I do not consider alcoholism a disease for the sole reason that it’s self-inflicted. My dad chose to drink, and he did not give up drinking until the day he died. I showed him absolutely no sympathy whatsoever after a certain point.

    If you’re going to do that to yourself when you have a daughter to take care of, well you’re undeserving of it, aren’t you? Anyone that feels judgmental should remember this : don’t judge the families, judge the individual. I did nothing wrong.

  • The One

    August 7th, 2011 at 8:44 PM

    First of all, addiction at its core is people using to get away from reality or straight up forget about something bad that happened. They need to learn to live in the now. Secondly being an adult is taking resposibility, if your child, friend, etc is doing drugs addictively you need to speak up because being a recovering opiate addict it is not easy once you get in over your read. And my final point is nobody who is close to someone should blame themselves for what that person is doing. It lies at its core that the person using is doing it to get HIGH not to hurt anyone else, that is the furthest thing from their mind. Peace n Love people

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