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Uprooting Addiction Stemming From the Family Tree


Contributor: Theresa Styffe, Counselor at Health Care Resource Centers Woburn, MA

As many of us know, the term “War on Drugs” has been circulating in our society for decades. What a number of people fail to realize, especially if one of their loved ones are suffering with Substance Use Disorder (SUD), is that the root of the illness can stem from a person’s family tree.

Various studies have shown that, “one in five children grow up in a home where at least one parent suffers with SUD” ( Children can experience lasting effects of their parent’s trauma which can result in delays in their learning and development. Children in such predicaments are three times more likely to be subjected to:
– Neglect
– Physical abuse or
– Sexual abuse

Children growing up in these types of environments are also more likely to develop substance use disorder as they grow older as a way to self medicate. As these children grow into adolescents, they are more susceptible to engaging in risky behaviors such as underage drinking and experimenting with illicit drug use.

Many factors can contribute to a teenager taking part in early experimentation of illicit substances. Teens with minimal supports at home and low self-esteem can be easily influenced by peer pressure. Added risks come for teens who come from a home where someone they love is battling an addiction.  Teens may be seeking self-medication to cope with their family’s SUD or, simply can be pre-disposed to similarities in their family’s genetics. Exposure to addictive substances quickly becomes overwhelming, which can result in strained relationships or running away from home to seek refuge for their emotional distress. ( If these presenting issues are not addressed early on, it is difficult for adolescents to break their cycle of addiction; particularly those who decide to go to college, as it is normalized on college campuses to “party excessively”.

Many of us, who have someone in their life suffering with addiction, know how difficult it can be to approach the topic with someone who is struggling. It is important that the conversation be open-minded and productive. This process does not have to be a full-blown intervention with all family and friends present as this can be overwhelming for the person who needs help.

Make Non-Judgmental Observations

It could be more beneficial to ask questions like:

  • “How do you feel like things in your life are going for you right now? It seems like you are [drinking more often/staying out later/ sleeping a lot, etc.].”

Stay away from beginning with “you” statements all together, if possible.  Using “I” or “We” pronouns can be more useful such as:

  • Don’t say: “All you do is sleep all day, and party all night. You need to start helping out around here.”
  • Do say: “We feel sad that we cannot communicate with you after a night out.” (org).

Explore Treatment Options

See if your loved one is willing to explore treatment options such as: Detox, Rehab, Medication-assisted treatment, residential treatment (sober homes, halfway houses) etc.

  • They may not be prepared to make a commitment to a detox, rehab or a medicated-assisted form of treatment. It is important to not pressure someone who does not appear ready.

Consider starting out with a therapist, whether it be individual or in a group/family setting, can be beneficial in the beginning.

  • Mental health professionals can explore your family member’s willingness to explore other treatment options as needed. Your loved one may not be ready to take the next step in their treatment for quite some time. Treatment has been proven to be most effective when someone is willing and motivated to change.

Acknowledge Your Own Needs

  • There are also many support groups and treatment options available for family members of someone with SUD such as Al-anon or Families Anonymous.

Often times, when a family member is suffering with addiction, the family suffers too. Not just emotionally but other hardships that come with financial burdens such as: shelling out money for treatment when their family member was not ready to commit just yet, court fees, buying back items that were pawned off during active addiction, or catching up on bills after money was stolen to support their family’s addiction. Families also tend to differ in opinions with one another. One of the more popular differences in opinions stems from one side of the family wanting to protect, or enable, the person suffering with addiction. Whereas, another side of the family might want to approach the situation with the “tough love approach”.  Many families grapple with these two sides and can benefit from learning effective communication skills and setting boundaries and limits with their loved ones suffering with addiction.

Shift Perspective

– Always remember not to take someone’s behavior, while in active addiction, personally because they are sick and are unable to think with a clear frame of mind.

The journey of one’s recovery is seldom identical to another person’s journey of recovery. There is no seamless, clean-cut way to fully abstain from illicit drugs or the behaviors that come with addiction. Most people learn how to abstain from their drug of choice first before dealing with their emotional distress, caused by their use, and learning effective coping strategies to prevent relapse.  It is important to be patient, loving and supportive when someone you know is beginning treatment for their addiction. The relationships will be rebuilt over time and with time and work you will be able to once again rely on one another.

– Hardey, S., Thomas, S., Stein, S., Kelley, R., & Ackermann, K. (2020, February 3). Guide for Families Part I: The Addiction Problem and Approaching It. Retrieved August 24, 2020, from 
– Murray, K., & Hampton, D. (2020, June 19). How Addiction Affects the Family. Retrieved August 24, 2020, from

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Medically Reviewed By:

Health Care Resource Centers Clinical Team

Health Care Resource Centers Clinical Team

Health Care Resource Centers Clinical Team

The Clinical Team at Health Care Resource Centers is our team of physicians and medical directors within the organization. HCRC is a CARF accredited organization and has been providing addiction treatment services for over 32 years in the New England area.

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