People who abuse drugs or alcohol often don’t realise the impact on those around them. The family may witness the user fly into drunken rages, experience rapid weight loss, or discover that their missing loved one is living on the street or has fatally overdosed. Such shocks can cause severe family trauma.

Family environment

Substance abusers are usually unpredictable or irrational; you never know how they’ll react. Simple disagreements can cause big fights as everyone feels misunderstood.  The family may walk on eggshells to pacify their addicted loved ones and children may withdraw. Arguments between parents may become normal, causing emotional distress for children. The result is an atmosphere of fear and confusion, without much joy. Early exposure to a home divided by drug use can cause children to feel emotionally and physically neglected and unsafe. Some develop extreme guilt and self-blame, feelings of unworthiness, lack of confidence, or dysfunctional attachments in their adulthood. Others may even become users themselves.

Broken Trust

Addiction always takes priority over relationships or family needs and is coupled with dishonesty. Addicts may want to honour their commitments, but the effects of the substances make them unable to. They’re also likely to forget the promises made to their children. If this becomes a trend, the child will have a hard time forming bonds with others since they don’t know how to trust. This loss of trust often results in broken marriages and dysfunctional children with serious mental and emotional disorders.

Increased Stress

In the midst of addiction, the addict is likely to leave all responsibilities to their families. Paying bills, making decisions, and cleaning up after the addict will quickly affect the family’s stress levels and health. Addictions are not cheap. Substance abusers may spend excessively and face legal expenses from driving under the influence or being caught with drugs. Their unreliable and erratic behaviour may also affect their jobs.


Family and friends may feel hopeless and alone, but supportive services such as Al-Anon can be reached on Tel: +27 21 595 4508 (national office). Also, contact AfroCentric EAP to speak to a counsellor – if you or your family need support.

Written by LifeAssist