Let us look at the effects on the family when someone is abusing alcohol or other drugs. Consider the following five scenarios:

  1. How a parent with a drug or alcohol problem affects the whole family
  2. How a partner with a drug or alcohol problem affects the other partner
  3. How a parent's addiction may affect their son or daughter
  4. How a son or daughter with an addiction problem affects the whole family
  5. Family support

How a parent with a drug or alcohol problem affects the whole family

It is well known that a parent with a drug or alcohol problem can have a negative effect on their family members. You could say that the person with the problem is like someone stuck in a bog. The other family members, in their efforts to help, often get pulled down into the bog too. The first step in putting things right is when the others start to get their own feet on solid ground. Only after they have done this will they be able to help tackle the addiction problem.

How a partner with a drug or alcohol problem affects the other partner

It is not easy to live with a person whose drinking or drug use is causing problems. The drinker or drug user is often full of conflict, torn between wanting their drug or alcohol and not wanting the harm that always seems to follow. They often blame others when things go wrong.

The partner or spouse of the addict or alcoholic often doubts themselves: Am I not a good enough partner? How can I get them to stop taking that drug? 

How can I protect my children? How can I hide this from my family and neighbours? 

The partner often feels hurt, ashamed, afraid, and has an overwhelming sense of failure. Unfortunately, many partners then work even harder to ‘fix’ the situation, taking on extra responsibilities, trying to cover up the mess… fighting a losing battle.

If you are that partner, the first step towards putting things right is to take some time for yourself, and get the support you need. A good friend or a counsellor can be a great help. See ‘Hope Family Support Program’ below.

How a parent's addiction may affect their son or daughter

The son or daughter of a parent abusing alcohol or drugs can also end up bogged down. They often adopt a role which helps the family, but they may get stuck in the role and neglect their own needs. Sharon Wegscheider describes some of these roles. Can you see yourself in one of these roles, or in elements of a couple of them? You can change! It’s easier if you get support.

  • The Family Hero

This is often the eldest in the family. This person is responsible, works hard for approval, and often appears successful. But inside, this person often feels insecure, as if things are always going to go wrong, and feels incompetent, confused and angry.

  • The Scapegoat

This person feels blamed when things go wrong. Everyone focuses on this person’s faults, which provides the family with a distraction from the real problem. So this person often seems rebellious, troublesome, law-breaking, tough… and may be at risk of abusing drugs themselves. Inside, this person is often full of fear, hurt, rejection and loneliness, feeling angry at the unfairness of how they are treated.

  • The Lost Child

This son or daughter appears as a dreamer, drifting above the troubled waters that bother other people. But inside, the person is not as contented as they appear. They are quietly hurt, angry, lonely, with a feeling of being inadequate.

  • The Mascot

Sometimes also referred to as the clown, the person in this role is often charming and cute, fun to be with, quick to make a joke. Sometimes they are quite hyper-active and flit from one interest to another; sometimes quite fragile and easily hurt. But they are good at hiding the hurt, and other feelings of loneliness, insecurity, fear and low self esteem.

If you recognise any of these roles as being ‘you’, the first step to putting things right is to take time for yourself, to talk to a friend or a counsellor. Stop thinking about the addicted person for a while (easier said than done!) and pay attention to your own real needs.  

How a son or daughter with an addiction affects the whole family

Whole families can seem to go to pieces when there is a son or daughter using drugs or alcohol. Parents fall out with each other over how to handle the situation, while other sons or daughters can get blamed for being a bad example. The drug user gets so much attention that others are neglected. Rows and bad language upset the peace. If peace and love are the oxygen of life, then the whole family is gasping for breath. 

In an airplane, if the oxygen masks are released, parents are supposed to put on their own masks before attending to their children’s masks. The same is true here. You must look after your own needs before helping the one causing the problem. 

Even if you are the only person in the family who recognises the alcohol or drug problem, it is worth while getting support for yourself, from a friend or a trusted teacher or a counsellor.


The Family Support Program at Hope is designed to work concurrently with the client’s treatment. Having a family member in treatment can be difficult for all who are involved and can often cloud the ability to make the right decision when it comes to helping that family member while they are in treatment or after they leave treatment.

The Hope Family Support Program focuses on understanding the disease of drug and alcohol abuse and how it impacts everyone in a family, constructive problem resolution and continuing care for the whole family.

Family members learn about various family dynamics and tools that they can use to build healthy family systems with someone in recovery from substance abuse. In addition, specific information regarding the family member in treatment is incorporated to ensure a lasting recovery for the client and healthy family dynamics. 

The key elements of the Hope Family Support Program include:

  • Educating the family about addiction 
  • Briefing the family about what to expect from the treatment program and how to cooperate for maximum benefit
  • Introduction to Al-anon family support groups
  • Counselling for personal issues and conflict resolution
  • Participation in structured intervention sessions with clients in treatment
  • Communication exercises between the client and family members
  • Participation in the client’s relapse prevention plan
  • Regular classes at Hope for families on various aspects of addiction and recovery 

How alcohol or drugs affect families and what to do about it