Mother holding daughter's hand supportivelyIf a family member is experiencing addiction, their entire family may be affected. Sometimes, people engage in behaviors such as stealing from, lying to, or manipulating loved ones to feed or hide their addiction. These behaviors can negatively impact individual family members as well as their relationships with each other. Many inpatient rehab facilities encourage family members to visit and participate in rehab as much as possible.

Cynthia Turner, a licensed clinical social worker with expertise in drug and alcohol addiction, shares, “Family can visit. However, you should check with the facility on what days and times this is allowed. Loved ones are often encouraged to be involved in the treatment process. Most programs have a family weekend and include family therapy in person and/or via telephone.”

How Addiction Affects the Family Unit

The negative effects of addiction can vary depending on the dynamic of each family. Nevertheless, there are common issues family members may experience, including:

Find a Treatment Center


In a two-parent household where one parent experiences addiction, the second parent may need to take on additional roles. They might become the primary caregiver, breadwinner, or emotional support for all other family members. If not addressed, this situation can lead to fatigue, frustration, and chronic stress for the parent who feels overworked. 

It is not unusual for children living in an environment with addiction to experience confusion. They might believe they are the reason a parent drinks alcohol or takes drugs. Children may also recognize the illegal nature of their parent’s activities and wonder if they are being forced to participate by hiding their parent’s actions from the authorities. They may be unsure about moral boundaries due to parental inconsistencies in rule setting and enforcement. They may also question whether addiction undermines parental authority.  

To compensate for the lack of parental support, older children may be forced to take on adult responsibilities such as caring for a parent with addiction, providing emotional support for the partner of a parent with addiction, or caring for younger siblings. In many cases, children develop defense mechanisms to protect themselves from the reality of their parent experiencing addiction. Children who grow up in a family environment characterized by addiction are more likely to have issues with substance dependence, mental health, parenting, finances, and relationships in the future.

Addiction can lead to a person becoming isolated from their family. Individuals with addiction may prefer to surround themselves with people who support and reinforce the addictive behavior. On the other hand, some family members may want cut ties and distance themselves from the person with addiction.

The Family’s Role in Rehab

Supportive families that provide safety for individuals with addiction contribute greatly to successful recovery. Family members can be supportive during inpatient rehab by:

  • Visiting during designated hours
  • Writing encouraging letters 
  • Participating in family therapy sessions
  • Not bringing up past mistakes
  • Not judging or condemning the individual in rehab

As people in treatment regain mental clarity, they may feel ashamed of their past behavior. It is important for family members to provide encouragement and support so their loved one can gain self-confidence during recovery. 

Educational Resources for Family Members

One of the first and most important steps family members can take is educating themselves about what addiction is, how it develops, and how it can be treated. They help look for treatment centers in their community or take advantage of other local resources.

Learning about addiction helps families gain better understanding of the challenges their loved one may be experiencing. While this does not excuse inappropriate behavior, it can lead to less irritation and more compassion for the individual with addiction. 


  1. Chapter 2: Impact of substance abuse on families. (2004). Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Retrieved from
  2. Family member support guide. (n.d.). Retrieved from