The Consequences of Addiction on Families

Mother wit ha daughter

If we knew the consequences of overlooking addiction—and the destruction to individuals, families, businesses, our communities and economy—we might think twice, three times or four times about ignoring it.

Indeed, if we really understood how much better our world could be, we might dedicate massive resources to eliminating this social ill.

To provide insight into what our world would be like without drug and alcohol addiction, I’ve been researching its impact on many aspects of our current world. How would children benefit? Families? Individuals of any age? Would our businesses prosper more?

This article looks at the effects of addiction on families.

What is Addiction?

A person is addicted when they lose control of their use of an intoxicating, mind-altering substance. They continue consuming that substance even though it is harming their life. They may have lost a job, their children, families, health or homes. But still, they continue drinking, smoking, injecting or whatever.

The other defining characteristic of addiction is that the person will go through withdrawal if they cease using that substance.

A person out of control of their drug or alcohol use impairs their own ability to look after their family. While there are a few functional alcoholics and addicted people, once most people are addicted, they are driven by their need for more drugs or alcohol. Gradually, this need supersedes their ability to properly care for children and a spouse or even themselves.

First, how many people are affected by addiction to drugs or alcohol?

Alcohol: more than 14 million people struggle with addiction to alcohol.

Drugs: more than eight million people suffer from a drug use disorder each year.

That means there are many millions of households affected by addiction. And 8.7 million children live in a household with a parent who is addicted to alcohol or drugs.

How Would Families Benefit if Addiction Didn’t Exist?


Here are some of the benefits we would see if we could eliminate addiction from family situations.

Fewer Divorces

A 2014 study found that the rate of divorce among those with alcohol use disorder was 48% compared to 30% for those without this problem. If the person was also addicted to drugs, the incidence of divorce was even higher.

Multiple studies have found that heavy alcohol consumption has been related to a greater risk of divorce. In one study, alcohol dependence increased the risk of separation 2.5 times.

Healthier, More Orderly Homes

A 2019 report titled The Impact of the Opioid Epidemic on Children and Adolescents reported that children raised in homes where drug use is common, suffer from dangerous levels of unhealthy chaos. For example:

  • Witnessing drug use and sales
  • Witnessing domestic abuse
  • Missing school
  • Lack of supervision
  • Lack of hygiene in the home
  • Unsafe people in the home
  • Witnessing overdoses, even by parents
  • Poverty
  • Homelessness
  • Living in a constantly negative environment
  • Need for hospitalization

Opioid use by parents seriously damages their ability to care for their children, as further documented in this report. Parents who abuse opioids commonly manifest the following impairments:

  • Parental focus on drug acquisition, not raising children
  • Distant emotionally from children
  • Unable to provide a nurturing environment
  • Impaired judgment
  • Verbal abuse of children
  • Sexual abuse of children
  • Neglect of children’s basic needs

Less Spousal Abuse

The American Society of Addiction Medicine reports that substance abuse is involved in 40% to 60% of intimate partner violence.

Women who are subjected to intimate partner violence are also more likely to get involved in substance abuse and high-risk alcohol use, perhaps to cope with the trauma.

And when drug or alcohol use is heavy in a household, it becomes eleven times more likely that violence is going to be provoked by either the person dishing out the violence or the person receiving it.

In 85% of these cases, the victim of intimate violence is female.

Less Violence in the Home

Wherever you look, drug and alcohol abuse are associated with increased levels of violence. The World Health Organization published a report on this phenomenon and noted the following facts:

  • In Memphis, among victims and family members who suffered violent attacks, 92% believed that the attacker had used drugs or alcohol the day of the attack.
  • In Atlanta, those who had used ecstasy showed higher levels of aggressive or violent behavior.
  • In Rhode Island, 25% of women who were arrested for domestic violence reported symptoms that classified them as addicted.

In fact, in an ironic twist, when female children are exposed to violence between their parents, or a parent and an intimate partner, this exposure significantly increases the odds of alcohol use problems when they become young adults.

Healthier Babies

Alcohol consumption during pregnancy can result in a group of conditions gathered under the term “fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.” This group of adverse health conditions can include:

  • Poor coordination
  • Learning disabilities
  • Poor memory
  • Low IQ
  • Poor reasoning and judgment skills
  • Hyperactivity
  • Vision problems
  • Heart, kidney, bone or hearing problems
  • Abnormal facial features

Cocaine use by a pregnant woman is associated with preterm delivery and spontaneous abortions. Beginning Prenatal exposure to cocaine also seems to lead to cognitive and learning deficits as the child gets older.

These are just a very few of the problems created for babies when their mother uses drugs or alcohol during pregnancy. When a woman is addicted, if she does not get support or go to rehab, she may not be able to stop herself from drinking or using drugs for the entire pregnancy. Both the mother and the baby may suffer for the rest of their lives.

Better Financial Situations for Families

Father, financial stress

A survey of family members of an addicted person found that 82% suffered adverse financial effects because of their family member’s addiction. The report also notes that a person addicted to cocaine or heroin can spend more than $10,000 a year on their habits. Some people can be driven to bankruptcy by a family member’s addiction and this is certainly true in the addicted person’s own immediate family.


If you look, there is ample evidence that families everywhere struggle and suffer because of the addiction of one or both parents or caregivers. Families around the world would greatly benefit from the elimination of addiction. In fact, our next generation and the ones after that would much better off if they could be raised in drug-free and alcohol-free environments.

In 1999, Joseph Califano of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse and Columbia University made this statement:

“There is no safe haven for these abused and neglected children of drug- and alcohol-abusing parents. They are the most vulnerable and endangered individuals in America.”

That is a very true statement. The very best thing that we can do for these children and the individuals who are addicted is to get them help. A parent who is addicted can recover and return home to create a healthier and happier future for themselves and their family.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP, LCDC-I


Karen Hadley

For more than a decade, Karen has been researching and writing about drug trafficking, drug abuse, addiction and recovery. She has also studied and written about policy issues related to drug treatment.