Addiction affects not just the addict but his or her family as well. Relationships suffer, family dynamics become negative and harmful, and family members can easily become resentful and angry. Over the years, many studies have been done to examine the many ways addiction impairs the family unit and what can be done to heal families while the addict is in treatment.

The following is a list of interaction and relational patterns that often develop in families of addiction. Learning this can help families become more aware of their own patterns and work to correct the way that they relate to the rest of their family members.

  1. Negative communication – When there is an addiction in the home, communication can quickly deteriorate. For instance, there are frequently complaints, criticisms, and expressions of sadness or resentment. It’s typical for the mood of the home to feel depressed and without life. If there is any positive talk or behavior, it’s frequently dismissed. In fact, it’s common for members of the family to create a crisis as a means to stir up energy in the home.
  2. Miscarried anger – A hallmark trait in a home with addiction is being emotionally deprived. There is a significant amount of repressed feelings, particularly because family members are taught to not talk about the elephant in the room – the addiction. As a result, family members become resentful and angry. Yet, they are afraid to express their anger. Anyone struggling with an addiction in the family will use drugs and alcohol as a means to manage their repressed anger.
  3. Self-medication – It’s common for the addict and other members of the family to avoid uncomfortable feelings and thoughts. Instead, they will turn to drugs and alcohol as a means to cope with these stressful inner experiences.
  4. Unrealistic parental expectations – It’s common among families with addiction to have loose or unclear boundaries. And a form of this is low or little parental expectation of children. Teens and children need firm boundaries, without which they will have a hard time securing a sense of self. When the boundaries and expectations are unclear, children will either work excessively to achieve while always feeling like they will never measure up. Or they might bend to their parents’ low or nonexistent expectations by striving for very little in life.


It’s important to remember that these traits are not true in all families. However, studies indicate that these relationship patterns are common among families with an addiction. For this reason, it’s common for addiction treatment centers to include family therapy as a part of the treatment program. This form of therapy is meant to heal family relationships, recognizing that family members can be a source of support for the one in treatment. Furthermore, family therapy aims to address the initial causes that might have led to the development of addiction in the first place.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction, remember that his or her family is likely also being affected. Calling for help will not only serve the one who is addicted, but his or her family members as well.

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