The Impact of Drug and Alcohol Abuse on Families

Learn how alcoholics and drug addicts impact family members and the role family therapy plays in helping the substance abuser as well as the spouse and children.

Learn how alcoholics and drug addicts impact other family members and the role family therapy plays in helping the substance abuser as well as the spouse and children.

Substance Abuse Impacts Families

In its guide "Substance Abuse Treatment and Family Therapy," The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration identifies various family structures and how substance abuse may impact these families.

  • A client who lives alone or with a partner - In this situation both partners need help. If one is chemically dependent and the other is not, issues of codependence arise.
  • Clients who live with a spouse or partner and minor children - Most available data indicate that a parent's drinking problem often has a detrimental effect on children. The spouse of the person abusing substances is likely to protect the children and assume the parenting duties of the parent abusing substances. The effect on children is worse if both parents abuse alcohol or abuse drugs.
  • A client who is part of a blended family - Stepfamilies present special challenges and substance abuse can become an impediment to a stepfamily's integration and stability.
  • An older client with grown children - Additional family resources may be needed to treat the older adult's substance use disorder. There may be issues of elder maltreatment that must be reported to local authorities.
  • An adolescent substance abuser living with his or her family of origin - Siblings in the family may find their needs and concerns ignored while their parents react to the continuous crises involving the teenager who abuses alcohol or drugs. If there is a parent who also abuses substances, this can set in motion a combination of physical and emotional problems that can be very dangerous.

Family Therapy Can Help

The guide explains that family therapy in substance or drug abuse treatment can help by using the family's strengths and resources to find ways for the person who abuses alcohol or drugs to live without substances of abuse and to ameliorate the impact of chemical dependency on both the patient and the family. Family therapy, the guide says, can help families become aware of their own needs and aid in the goal of keeping substance abuse from moving from one generation to another.

But, the guide warns substance abuse counselors that they must always be aware that family-counseling techniques should not be used where a batterer is endangering a client or a child. The first priority is safeguarding all parties.

The guide warns that family therapy for women with substance use disorders is appropriate except for cases of ongoing partner abuse. Further, women who have lost custody of their children may be strongly motivated to overcome their substance abuse since often they are working to get their children back.

The guide also notes that often family therapists do not screen for substance abuse because therapists are not familiar with the questions to ask or the cues provided by their clients. It also emphasizes that substance abuse counselors should not practice family therapy without proper training and licensing, but they should know enough to determine when a referral is indicated.

Find more comprehensive information about Drug Abuse and Addiction and Alcohol Abuse and Addiction.

Source: SAMSHA News Release (no longer online)

APA Reference
Gluck, S. (2021, December 16). The Impact of Drug and Alcohol Abuse on Families, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 23 from

Last Updated: December 30, 2021

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

More Info