Addiction is a complex issue that affects everyone differently, but it never affects just one person. Sometimes addiction manifests from family influences, such as a parent’s substance abuse, domestic trauma, and even neglect. Some family members may unintentionally enable a loved one’s addiction to continue unchecked. Family can definitely contribute to a person’s addiction in many destructive ways, but they are also the best people to help him or her overcome it.

The Family Can Play Many Roles In An Addiction Case

Most individuals have varying types of relationships with different family members. Perhaps one parent is more supportive than the other, or the parents separated and the individual only sees one of them regularly. People often develop different types of relationships with their siblings, too. A person could feel closer to one brother or sister than another, and the same applies to extended family. Every person eventually develops his or her own support system within a family, but family can also influence a person in negative ways. Ultimately, an individual who develops any sort of addiction must scrutinize his or her relationships to family members, identify negative influences, and focus on the more positive relationships.

Family Influences May Lead To Addiction

While family members are usually a person’s first place to look for support, family members may also be the first negative or even abusive influences a person encounters. Some people develop substance abuse disorders in response to past trauma. Domestic violence, sexual abuse, undue ridicule, or even a parent’s indifference toward a child’s well-being and decisions can all eventually propel an individual toward addiction.

For example, if an individual has an abusive parent, but the other parent does not recognize the abuse, is not a part of the child’s life, or does not do anything to stop it, this eventually creates a seemingly hopeless situation for the child. The two people in the world who should be the first line of defense for him or her are destructive forces. A person in this position may look to drugs and alcohol as an escape from a difficult home life. If he or she develops a mental health disorder as a result of years of abuse in the home, substance abuse becomes an apparently easy escape from past trauma. However, this only perpetuates a toxic and destructive cycle and never really addresses the underlying cause of the problem.

Ultimately, the way parents act toward their children undeniably shapes their children’s future behaviors. When parents are overly controlling or manipulative, this eventually creates pressure for the child to escape or find some kind of relief from the negative influence of home life. However, even if a parent is not overtly abusive toward a child, the parent can still influence a child’s substance abuse disorder in various ways.

Have Honest Discussions About Family History

Substance abuse disorders may also run in a family. Several studies* have shown alcoholism results from genetic predisposition and poor coping skills in equal proportion, and a child of a parent with a substance abuse problem is eight times more likely to develop a substance abuse problem later in life. Additionally, “cross addiction” is possible; if a parent is addicted to cocaine, this does not mean his or her child will definitely develop a cocaine addiction, but the child certainly faces a higher risk of developing any type of addiction, whether it is alcohol, opioids, or antidepressants.

Some parents believe that shielding their children from negative influences is always the best option, and they may dismiss a family member’s drinking problem or other addiction without ever discussing the issue with their children. For example, a child’s uncle struggles with alcoholism, and at every family function he appears boisterous, disheveled, and generally disruptive. Instead of simply telling a child “he drinks a bit too much,” parents can take this opportunity to create a teachable moment for their children. Having honest conversations about addiction and the damage it can cause is valuable within any family.

Patterns Of Enabling

Family members may start to recognize that a loved one has a substance abuse issue and approach the issue in the worst possible manner out of purely good intentions. Any type of substance abuse inevitably causes financial issues, impairs physical and mental health, and deteriorates interpersonal relationships. The parents and other relatives of a person struggling with addiction may look for ways to help this person, only to fall into the trap of enabling instead.

“Enabling” describes any type of behavior that helps a person maintain his or her addiction, whether directly or indirectly. Enabling also applies to behaviors that prevent a person with an addiction from recognizing the consequences of his or her addiction. Enabling is often difficult to identify and it can occur in many different ways:

  • Covering for a loved one’s financial obligations because he or she lost a job due to substance abuse or spent all of his or her money on drugs or alcohol is textbook enabling. The person offering this type of “help” may assume the struggling person needs financial assistance to avoid hitting rock bottom, but any help given in this capacity ultimately helps the addiction to continue.
  • Cleaning up after a loved one, doing his or her laundry, and covering other basic household tasks because he or she has a substance abuse problem and has neglected these basic responsibilities is another common form of enabling.
  • Giving cash to a loved one with an addiction is never acceptable. A parent may see a child begging and pleading for money to ward off withdrawal symptoms and acquiesce out of a desire to see his or her child stop being in pain, but this is ultimately destructive. Even if a loved one with a substance abuse problem asks for money for a specific reason, any cash given to him or her will often go toward maintaining his or her addiction.
  • Any behaviors that make maintaining addiction easier are enabling. This could include defending the addicted person from other family members who push him or her toward treatment, lying on behalf of a loved one with an addiction, or many other possibilities.


Eventually, enabling can lead to codependency. The person with the addiction will come to depend on a loved one’s enabling, and the person doing the enabling will continue doing so out of fear of losing the addicted person one way or another.

Family Is The First Line Of Defense

While family can certainly have negative influences when it comes to addiction, they are also usually the first line of defense and support for a person who wants to make a positive change in his or her life and overcome addiction. Family members are almost always the ones who ultimately encourage a person struggling with addiction to enter treatment and start fresh. The intervention process is a crucial step in any recovery experience.

During an intervention, the friends and loved ones of a person struggling with addiction come together to offer support, tell the addicted person how his or her behavior has impacted their lives, and encourage him or her to enter rehab. This is a difficult process, but family members who approach this issue honestly and stand firm in their resolve to see a loved one enter treatment can be the final push toward making positive changes in his or her life.

Working Through Addiction As A Family

Family’s role in addiction doesn’t end with an intervention; the person entering treatment will need ongoing support during rehab and beyond. The shock of reentering regular life after substance abuse treatment is an extremely difficult transition for most newly recovered individuals, and family members must be ready to offer constructive support however they can.