How does drug abuse affect family and friends?

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The insidious nature of drug addiction means that it affects not only the addict but also everyone close to him or her.

Family members, friends, neighbors and colleagues may all be impacted by a person who is abusing substances, and many may take on co-dependent roles in attempts to cope with the addicted person's behavior.

Negativity and unreliability

According to the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, "negativism" is typical in a drug addict's immediate environment with family. Complaints, criticism and expressions of displeasure are the normal form of communication, while positive behavior is largely ignored. In these types of families, the only way to get attention is to create a crisis, which can reinforce inappropriate behavior, especially in children.

Friends and family members of a substance abuser will usually find that the addict is unreliable, which can create situations where others are forced to compensate or make excuses for the addict. This can lead to resentment and anger, creating more tension between the addict and his close network of colleagues, friends or loved ones.

Parental inconsistency and role compensation

In families with a drug addict, parental rule setting is usually inconsistent. Children struggle to figure out where boundaries are, often acting out in order to gauge what is appropriate or to get attention they are not receiving. Since limits aren't defined, children - and spouses - can't predict the addict's responses, which creates confusion about the "rules."

Family systems that are plagued by addiction also tend to exhibit role changes. For example, a daughter might compensate for an addict mother's lack of parental skills by taking on the role of caretaker, or the spouse of an addict might have to play the role of both mother and father. Friends and neighbors might also become more involved in shouldering the responsibilities an addict fails to manage.

Unfortunately, children or teens of addicted parents might also turn to drugs or alcohol in order to cope with feelings of anger about their family environments. Emotional deprivation, anxiety or depression can lead to self-medication.

Source: National Institute of Health

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