While the effects of substance abuse on families are varied and complex, it is clear that families suffer both emotionally and financially when a loved one is struggling with addiction.

There are a number of emotional effects that substance abuse can have on families. These effects can include feelings of anger, sadness, anxiety, fear and guilt. Families may also experience caregiver burnout as they try to support  their loved one. Parents can also blame themselves for their children’s addiction.

Substance abuse can have serious impact on marital relationships. Addicted spouses may be irresponsible, irritable, withdrawn and neglectful on their partner and children. They may also have difficulty communicating effectively , leading to arguments and conflict. The stress of living with an addicted spouse can also take a toll on the family’s mental and physical health.

If the addicted person is a child, the effects on the child’s parents can be very difficult. The parents may feel guilty, shame and worry on the child’s future. One parent may feel that the other is not doing enough to help the child, mostly the mothers seek medical help whilst the father neglects the child, prefer corporal punishment and blame the mother for loving her child so dearly since childhood. More so the mothers blame their husbands for not being around while the child was growing up. The blame game will lead to a lot of resentment and conflict between parents which in most cases will result in divorce.

The financial effects of substance abuse on families can be significant. Parents and caregivers may need to spend money on rehabilitation and other services which might lead to difficulty in balancing the needs of their other children.  And in some cases, parents may need to pay for legal fees, bail or fines related to their child’s addiction. In addition all the financial strain can put additional stress and conflicts on the parent’s marriage  and family.


After all has been said there are a number of solutions that can help families who are struggling with substance abuse. It is important for the person with substance abuse problem to seek help, individually or with the help of their family. They are many types of treatment available, including inpatient and outpatient programs depending with severity, individual, group and family therapy. Therapy is an essential tool for healing and recovery for it explores the root causes of substance abuse and works on it. Individual therapy helps people explore their feelings, learn different techniques to cope with stress and develop healthier ways of thinking and behaving. Families benefit a lot from support group and family therapy . Family therapy helps families to improve communication, repair relationships, and create a more positive and supportive environment, this builds a strong support system for the substance abuser.

Self care is essential for the families dealing with substance abuse for it is easier to get caught up in taking care of the needs of others but it is important to make time for oneself as well. Self care can include activities like exercising, getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, spending time with friends and practicing relaxation techniques . Self care equips one with some energy to support others.

Families can also get psycho-education on substance abuse and recovery. Understanding the disease of addiction and how it affects the brain can help family members to  be supportive during recovery. Its important to understand the stages of the recovery process and what to expect during each stage. There are four stages of recovery which are per-contemplation, contemplation, action and maintenance. The per-contemplation stage is when someone is not yet ready to change their behavior. Contemplation stage is when someone is considering change but hasn’t made commitment yet . the action stage is taking steps to stop using substances . finally the maintenance stage is when one has made changes they wanted to make and is working to maintain them.

This article was written by Francisca Magwaza

Intern Counseling Psychologist


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