Drug and alcohol abuse are found to have devastating impact on families of addicts and their larger community. These addictions can destroy family dynamics and relationships thereby giving birth to extreme stress, resentment, behavioral disorders and disintegration within the family. When a member of the family is diagnosed with alcohol or drug addiction, others members are likely to become extremely involved in the situation that adds to stress and tension eventually giving birth to a dysfunctional family unit. Involvement, whether physical, emotional or simply psychological, is bound to leave a deep impression on the behavior of families, often resulting in development of deviant behavior in other family members. This is a negative though natural response to the stressful situation. Milhorn Jr. (1994) in his guide for families with drug addicts contends:
The effects of drug addiction on the user's family are profound. Members tend to function inappropriately in a codependent manner. Beattie defines a codependent as a person who lets another person's behavior -- in this case, the addict -- adversely affect him or her and who is obsessed with controlling the addict's behavior. It is estimated that there are 40 million people who are codependent for alcoholism. There are no statistics estimating how many people are codependent with addicts who use other drugs. (p. 159)
Effects on drug misuse on families have been widely researched and findings in all cases have been anything but positive or encouraging. Research shows that affected families display a range of social and psychological problems from stress and depression to social withdrawal and emotional isolation. Velleman et al. (1993) found that drug and alcohol abuse can result in both short- and long-term effects. While short-term effects are connected with emotional and psychological health, long-term effects can actually hurt psychical health. While short-term effects include feelings of loneliness, isolation, fatigue, anxiety, depression, fearfulness, tension, confusion, apprehension etc., long-term effects may include actual physical problems such as ulcers, higher blood pressure and 'nervous breakdown'. Family members also report a sudden unanticipated increase in their own drug and alcohol consumption as one of the effects of having a drug addict in the family. Drug abuse doesn't only case personal negative impact on people's emotional, psychological and physical health but may also damage the relationship they have with the drug addict, seriously hurt finances, and can destroy affected person's social life as well.
The family itself can be the source of drug problems; but it can also be a potent force for prevention and treatment. It has been shown that illicit drug abuse correlates more strongly with the disintegration of the family than with poverty. Drug abuse can strain family relationships and ultimately make the family dysfunctional, transforming families from an asset of society into a burden...Effects on the family can include both psychological and financial burdens, resulting too often in family breakdown, negative impacts on children and involvement in criminal activities. (UN ODCCP Studies: 2002)
One of the more serious effects includes spread of drug and alcohol abuse in the family because of the presence of one addict. It has been found that because of co-dependence, others members may resort to drug and alcohol consumption to relieve stress and this may lead to the spread of this disease in the whole family. This usually happens because while others can shun the addict, the family is unable to do so and the only way to deal with the stressful situation is to succumb to it. Without the availability of proper support system, families of drug abusers can progressively become dysfunctional:
Members tend to develop their own unhealthy codependence in response to the stress of the situation. Family rules and family denial evolve, and members develop their own dysfunctional roles. Everyone whose life touches that of the drug addict is, in one way or another, adversely affected by the disease. Friends can drift away, a boss can fire the addict, the school system can expel him, but family members cannot so easily turn their backs on someone they love and someone for whom they are legally responsible. The only choice seems to be to do the best they can to adapt to the addict's illness and its effects on them. Unfortunately, there is no healthy way to adapt to drug addiction. It is in the family environment that addicts find their greatest allies. Here, the people who suffer the most from the addict's behavior become the people who unwittingly nurture the addiction. The unhealthy relationships that develop follow a predictable pattern and cause drug addiction to be accurately labeled as a family disease." (Milhorn: 164-165)
Children in such families are more seriously affected than adults because of their inability to comprehend the situation or cope with it. Dore et al. (1996) found that children may even begin holding themselves responsible for drug abuse within the family. This is because the child is cognitively unable to make sense of the situation and thus he loses self-esteem, becomes socially isolated, and develops feelings of intense guilt and shame. According to Springer et al. (1992), children in affected families exhibit poor academic performance, social isolation, psychological and emotional problems etc. Disintegration of family unit and increased domestic violence has also been found to result from the presence of a drug addict within the family. Bekir et al. (1993) found in their research that children with a drug addict parent is likely to take over as parent to fill the vacant space in the family unit. Drug addicts usually shun their important responsibilities as parents, which results in children taking on the role of a responsible adult. However this can be detrimental in the long run when these children become parents themselves. The research found that such children might abandon their own families once they become parents.
We see the addict as an individual, and most people do not realize the addict can be a parent, sibling, a family member. As a family member the impact of addiction can be demoralizing to the other family members. Children are the real sufferers of this social malady. They are relegated to the pit of poverty because they do not have the support system of a stable home. When people turn to addiction, they show their selfishness, and lost of concern for the people who love them. (Culvert: 2001)
Apart from immediate families, drug and alcohol addiction can have negative impact on the community as well. The correlation between addiction and increased criminal behavior is well documented. Addicts often steal from their families and community to fulfill their needs. Since the addict wouldn't mind doing anything socially unacceptable or deviant to continue his/her habit, this can have a seriously harmful impact on the community. Their behavior gives rise to prostitution, stealing, criminal activities, drug dealing etc. All these destroy the social system as UN ODCCP studies show: "...links between drug addiction, needle-sharing, prostitution, AIDS and other diseases are clearly demonstrable, and create additional health dangers for society as a whole..." The indirect impact include enormous increase in health-care costs as the study adds: "In 1995, healthcare spending associated with alcohol, tobacco and drug abuse was estimated at more than $114 billion in the U.S.A. Smoking accounted for 70% of these costs... Costs incurred by society due to drug abuse and its resulting consequences are almost impossible to calculate at a national or international level with the data available to date. In such a calculation, the indirect as well as the direct effects of drug abuse must be included. This notwithstanding, it is clear that the consequences of the provision and consumption of drugs have many implications for society as a whole, and put a high burden on often over-stretched health budgets." (ODCCP Studies: 2002)