Is Addiction A Family Disease?

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D on December 29, 2021

Drug and alcohol addiction can affect the entire family, not just the person with a substance problem. For this reason, addiction is sometimes referred to as a “family disease” that can be treated with individual, group, and family treatment services.

Is Addiction A Family Disease?

A substance use disorder, also known as drug or alcohol addiction, is a disease that can affect the entire family unit—not just the person struggling with a substance problem.

For this reason, drug addiction is often described as a “family disease” that can affect children of addicted parents, siblings, spouses, and the parents of addicted individuals.

Learn more about the impact of substance abuse on families

What Makes Addiction A Family Disease?

Drug addiction can affect virtually all areas of a person’s life. When you live at home with other family members, or have close family, many of these effects can also extend to them as well.

Calling addiction a “family disease” acknowledges that family members can also feel the effects of substance abuse, particularly when and if it becomes severe or chronic.

Addiction can disrupt personal relationships, create emotional distress within the household, and divide family members as they work to navigate both the issue and life in general with an addicted loved one.

Effects Of Addiction On The Family

What makes drug addiction a family disease is largely its effects on family members.

This is particularly true for those closest to the individual, although extended family members can feel the impact of this as well.

Common examples of effects of addiction include:

  • financial stability in the household
  • mental and emotional effects
  • disrupted relationships within and outside of the family
  • poor communication patterns
  • negative effects on child welfare

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Effects On Mental And Emotional Health Of Family Members

Many families have unconditional love for one another. Even when liking a family member is difficult, loving them is never in question, through both the easy and the troubled times.

Yet, this doesn’t mean that difficult issues, like addiction, don’t affect the family. Some family members may feel pressured to put on a brave face, while others may grow frustrated or withdraw.

Addiction of a loved one may cause families to feel:

  • depressed
  • resentful
  • hopeless
  • anxious
  • stressed
  • distrustful
  • paranoid
  • uncertain

In addition, substance abuse can also increase the risk for mental health disorders in other family members, such as depression, anxiety, and cause other emotional and behavioral problems.

Social Effects Of Addiction On The Family

Shame, embarrassment, and uncertainty often pervade families affected by addiction. Should it be kept secret? Do you cover up for your addicted loved one? Make excuses?

The addiction of a loved one can affect family members’ social lives, as well as their relationships with others, including friends, neighbors, and romantic partners.

It can also affect:

  • academic performance of children
  • behavior in school
  • work performance
  • ability to form new connections with others
  • ability to leave town or disconnect for a getaway

Figuring out how to care for your loved one without sacrificing your own happiness or well-being can be incredibly difficult, and sometimes painful to navigate.

How Addiction Stigma Can Affect Families

Another social factor that can affect the lives of families with an addicted loved one is the stigma surrounding drug and alcohol addiction.

Stigma is a form of prejudice against specific groups of people, including addicted individuals. It can elicit feelings of shame, embarrassment, and even deter people from seeking treatment.

This can cause a major internal struggle for individuals with a substance use disorder.

But this can also affect family members, who may themselves be unsure of how to navigate the negative messages and stereotypes perpetuated about people with addiction.

Relationship Problems Due To Addiction

Research shows that addiction can have serious effects on relationships between family members, as well as relationships outside of the family.

Common relationship issues associated with substance abuse include:

  • infidelity
  • codependency
  • divorce
  • child neglect
  • domestic and child abuse
  • family estrangement
  • problems with intimacy

How addiction affects relationships can vary widely for each family, and each person within the family. Children, for instance, can be uniquely affected. As can siblings and parents.

This can also shift over time, and manifest more prominently for some family members than others.

How Children Are Affected By Addiction

Parental addiction can have long-lasting effects on children, particularly those under the age of 17 who live with their addicted parent.

Many children love their parents, regardless of their struggles. But research shows this can also have measurable effects on a child’s behavior, mental health, overall welfare, and their own relationships to substances into adulthood.

Is Addiction A Genetic Disease?

Another reason addiction might be referred to as a “family disease” is that there is evidence to suggest that substance use issues may be genetic, and can run in families.

Most addiction experts agree that addiction cannot typically be traced back to a single cause.

But if you have a family history of addiction or mental illness, you may be at higher risk of developing this issue yourself at some point in life.

Healing From Addiction As A Family

While family members can feel the impact of addiction, they can also play an important role in a loved one’s treatment and recovery process—through which the entire family can begin to heal.

In the early stages of recovery, the support of family can be beneficial in getting help for addiction, staying in treatment, and helping them to stay on track in their recovery.

Furthermore, family members can also actively participate in treatment through family counseling, support groups, and seek counseling services out for themselves as well, if needed.

Find Addiction Treatment For Yourself Or A Loved One

Watching a loved one struggle with addiction can be one of the most painful experiences of a person’s life. But there is hope. At, we may be able to help.

If you’re looking for addiction treatment for yourself or a loved one, call our free helpline today to find drug and alcohol treatment options at a high-quality treatment center near you.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D on December 29, 2021
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