7 Unhealthy Ways Families Cope With Addiction

Last Updated on September 27, 2021

7 Unhealthy Ways Families Cope With Addiction Addiction impacts every aspect of the family dynamic, including finances, behavioral roles, stability at home, and the mental, physical, and spiritual health of each family member.1 If left untreated, addiction may very well destroy the family, leaving nothing behind but the broken pieces of what used to be.

How Substance Abuse Affects Families

According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, families facing substance abuse and addiction frequently face the following consequences.2

  • Families with substance abusers typically face more financial pressure as these individuals are at greater risk for job instability, long-term unemployment, and accidents or injuries at work.
  • Substance abuse in the family increases the likelihood of unhappy marriages and divorce.
  • Male alcohol and drug abuse are associated with an increased risk of partner violence, which also increases the likelihood that children in the household will engage in substance use as well as a result of the stress and trauma of witnessing violence at home.
  • Children of substance abusers are often neglected or abused. Adults with substance use disorders are 4.2 times more likely to report neglectful behavior and 2.7 times more likely to report abusive behavior toward their children.

When a family member is suffering from addiction, other members of the family typically adopt certain behaviors, thoughts, and attitudes to cope with the destructive impact of the drug abuse. These coping strategies may seem like the only way to deal with the addiction, but in fact, are often very unhealthy and harmful.

Nova Recovery Center offers an intensive family program that is designed to help families heal, communicate, and move forward with their lives by combatting some of the unhealthy coping strategies that many families adopt when faced with substance abuse.

Coping with Addiction: 6 Ways Families Deal with Substance Abuse

Here are six common ways family members cope with addiction and six ways our family program at Nova Recovery Center addresses these issues.

  1. Family members may blame the addict.

Many family members don’t understand that addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease.3 As a result, they may blame the addict, claiming that they are just too unmotivated, lazy, or don’t want to get sober.

How Nova’s family program can help:  Educating family members about the disease of addiction is key to combating thoughts like these. Our family program seeks to provide a wealth of information about the effects of substance abuse on the brain and how that influences self-destructive behaviors, as well as the importance of professional support and treatment in addiction recovery. This type of education can help family members develop a more understanding and compassionate mindset to support their loved one.

  1. Family members may isolate themselves.

Family members may feel ashamed of their addicted loved one’s actions and isolate themselves from other people in the community as a result. They may also not want others to know what’s going on or be in complete denial that there is even an issue.

How Nova’s family program can help: While a loved one is in drug rehab, family members will benefit from seeking the support of others who are in similar situations. Joining a local recovery support group for families and friends of addicts is a great way to engage with other people who are facing the same struggles and receive support. During our family program, we encourage family members to get involved with an anonymous community support group, such as Al-Anon or Nar-Anon. In fact, our staff members even travel off of our addiction treatment center campus with family members to begin finding support.

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  1. Family members may continually “rescue” the addict.

It’s extremely difficult to watch a child, spouse, parent, or sibling suffer from the consequences of their addiction and it’s very tempting to “rescue” them from these consequences. Some family members may find themselves bailing a loved one out of jail, cleaning up their messes, lending them money for rent, or lying to protect them from job loss, financial distress, or a painful breakup.

How Nova’s family program can help: While it may feel like these actions are loving and helping, they are actually doing more harm than good. Throughout Nova’s family program, we’ll discuss the damaging effects of enabling behaviors, what they look like, and how family members can modify these behaviors to provide the love and support an addicted loved one will need once they complete drug and alcohol rehab and return home.

  1. Family members may adopt inappropriate roles.

There are several different roles family members may take on to cope with a loved one’s substance abuse.4 They include:

  • The Hero: This person strives to overachieve and be successful to overshadow the downfalls of the addicted family member. On the outside, this person may seem happy and confident, but on the inside, he or she is usually very isolated and emotionally withdrawn.
  • The Caretaker: This person wants to keep the family together and functioning. He or she usually enables the addict by taking over all of their responsibilities and encourages other family member’s codependent behaviors in the process.
  • The Mascot: This person seeks to draw attention away from the addict by masking the problems with jokes or making the situation seem less serious than it really is.
  • The Scapegoat: This person also seeks to draw attention away from the addict, but does so in a more destructive way. He or she may get into trouble at school or work, have run-ins with the police, or begin using drugs and alcohol too.
  • The Lost Child: This person is very concerned about the addict in the family and the way it is affecting other family members, but withdraws emotionally to avoid the drama and conflict.

How Nova’s family program can help: Nova’s family program can help family members recognize codependent and unhealthy family roles that may have gone unnoticed. Our counseling and therapeutic staff will also work with family members to develop and practice healthy methods for confronting a loved one’s addiction.

  1. Family members may self-medicate.

Facing addiction and substance abuse in the family can be very overwhelming, especially when you’re trying to maintain a sense of stability at home, continue with regular daily activities, manage the finances, and do everything else that keeps a household running. Some family members may self-medicate with drugs or alcohol to cope with the stress.

How Nova’s family program can help: If more than one family member is suffering from substance abuse or addiction, Nova can help. Our drug and alcohol rehab programs provide supportive, individualized care to help adults of all circumstances and backgrounds overcome their addiction(s). Our family program is designed to be a safe space where everyone can listen, be heard, and get the help they need, regardless of the situation. Continued family therapy and  individual therapy may be necessary to overcome other social problems connected to a loved one’s substance abuse.5

  1. Family members may have unrealistic expectations about recovery.

It’s easy to think that once an addict goes to rehab, he or she will come back a saint and life will be perfect. Unfortunately, unrealistic expectations like this can cause stress and damage relationships between the substance abuser and his or her family members.

How Nova’s family program can help: Long-term rehab is essential to maintaining a life of sobriety. Unfortunately, 30 days in rehab just isn’t enough time to make impactful, lifelong changes and even after drug rehab, an individual will need to be involved in a peer support group to maintain their sobriety. Nova’s family program helps families develop realistic expectations about their loved one’s recovery journey and their role in that process by providing context and helpful information about addiction treatment.

If your loved one is addicted to drugs and alcohol, you and your family have most likely developed some unhealthy coping strategies to deal with the stress of substance abuse in the household, but healing is not as far away as you might think. Nova Recovery Center can help your addicted loved one find freedom in a sober lifestyle and provide support as you rebuild your household and heal the wounds that addiction has left behind.

Please contact Nova Recovery Center today to learn more about our drug rehab programs and our intensive group family program for loved ones.



  1. https://www.ncadd.org/family-friends/there-is-help/family-disease
  2. https://www.centeronaddiction.org/addiction-research/reports/family-matters-substance-abuse-and-american-family
  3. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/media-guide/science-drug-abuse-addiction-basics
  4. https://online.alvernia.edu/addiction-and-the-family/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64258/


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