In order to fully understand the impact that drug addiction can have on families, we must look at what drug addiction is — and what it is not. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a government agency set up to inform and educate people about drug addiction, drug addiction is defined as “a chronic, often relapsing brain disease that causes compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences to the addicted individual and to those around him or her.”
NIDA goes on to explain that the original use and abuse of any drug is by-and-large voluntary, however, once the addiction takes hold of an individual drug user, the addiction is not voluntary. It is not possible for a drug addict to simply stop taking the drugs upon which their bodies have become dependent. It is possible, however, for an addicted individual to stop taking drugs and control their addiction cravings. With the involvement of specialized treatment programs, it is possible for an addict to get and stay clean while living a full, happy and productive life.
The age at which a person begins using drugs can vary greatly depending upon the individual’s circumstances, exposure to drugs and many other factors. There have been cases of children who have not yet reached their teens who are already addicted to illegal narcotics and “street” drugs like methamphetamine or cocaine. In other cases, methamphetamine has become a problem for middle-aged women with families. There is no set age at which a person may make the decision to turn to drugs. There is evidence, however, that the earlier a person chooses to engage in drug use, the more likely he or she is to suffer from addiction.
The reasons a person may choose to take drugs for the first time vary as much as the people who makes the decision. Peer pressure to fit in at school may be a factor, as well as the stress that comes from high-pressure careers. Some studies have shown that a great majority of those suffering from addiction have underlying mental health issues that facilitate the user’s desire to use drugs. When an individual suffers from an underlying condition as well, medical professionals refer to them as “dual diagnosis” patients. In order to successfully treat the addiction, the person must be treated for the underlying condition also.
Some of these underlying issues may include:
Mild of Severe Depression
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Borderline Personality Disorder
Low Self-Esteem or Self Worth
Who Uses Drugs?
Drug addiction can affect anyone. In fact, nearly half of all Americans report that they know someone who has an addiction to illegal drugs. Drugs are not isolated to dark alleys or urban street corners, nor are drug addicts relegated to one segment of the population. Drug addiction crosses every boundary, both on the map and in regards to the socio-economic lines that crisscross the country.
Anyone is susceptible to drug use, whether it’s mothers in the Midwest, fathers on the Pacific Coast, sons and daughters in New England, or children in the Southwest. These individuals come from humble backgrounds and lakeside mansions. They have known poverty and they have attended Ivy League schools. Many of them have jobs, and almost all of them have families. Any individual who chooses to take drugs for the first time faces the possibility of changing his or her life forever through addiction.
How Drug Addiction Affects US. Families
The first impact that drug addiction has on the family is one of emotional turmoil. When an individual is addicted to drugs, he or she becomes manipulative toward family members. This person will seek any means through which to obtain drugs, including:
Borrow under false pretenses or steal cash from family members to purchase drugs
Steal property from family members to trade or sell for drugs
Lie to family members concerning whereabouts and associations
Convince family members to help obtain drugs in order to “get well” or “seek help”
Other ways families are affected by drug use include:
1: Loss of Trust
Trust is an important aspect to living in a family unit. In the beginning, family members may be hopeful their loved one will change the addictive behaviors and become the person he or she was before the drug use. Over time, manipulations like those mentioned above can tear a family apart. In some cases, family members are so distraught over their loved one’s addiction that they are tempted to give up. They become angry and hostile toward their mother, child, father or sibling and are forced to sever relationships entirely in order to cope.
2: Family Separation Due to Jail or Prison
There is no law in the United States that penalizes an individual for the physical state of addiction, however, drug addiction can lead otherwise law-abiding individuals to commit violent and non-violent crimes. Some of the most common crimes committed by those addicted to drugs include:
The National Center for Victims of Crime found that drug addiction contributes to higher rates of child abuse, domestic violence and sexual violence in a 2007 report from the National Institute of Justice. More than half of people arrested in the United States will test positive for illegal drugs.
There are many ways that a separation due to drug-related or induced prison sentences can negatively harm a family. If the breadwinner is sent to jail for even a short time, the family financial structure can be diminished to a point that is incredibly difficult to correct. The added stress of financial difficulties when the addict is released from prison can contribute to a relapse into the same addictive behaviors experienced prior to the separation.
When drug addiction removes a parent or sibling from the family unit, children are often raised without one, or both, of their parents. This abandonment, as well as the family history of drug abuse, can drastically increase a child’s chances of becoming addicted to illegal drugs in the future.
When an individual is released from prison, there is a period of time where they are readjusting to society in general. If this recovering addict and recently released individual also has children, it can be difficult to reestablish a parent/child relationship or bond. According to The Sentencing Project, the ramifications of imprisonment of one or both parents can have a negative effect on children for a long period of time after the incarceration.
3: Involvement of Child Protection Services
Many drug addicts pay less attention to the care, comfort, health or well-being of their children. It is important to remember that drug addiction is a disease that affects a person’s brain. Addicts do not think like a person who does not take drugs, their priorities are very different, and often the decisions they make are inappropriate. Feeding and clothing their children, keeping them safe from harm and setting a good example for them become secondary to the addict’s personal need to find and use more drugs.When this happens, it is likely that the addict will be reported to a state-governed child welfare organization. If warranted, the children can be legally removed from the addict’s care, custody and control, and placed into foster care until the parent is in active recovery. If the addiction is so severe that the parent refuses treatment or is unable to maintain their treatment efforts, steps can be taken to permanently remove the children and place them for adoption.
4: Drug Violence Affects Families
While drug addiction does not discriminate between races or economic factors, there are some social impacts of drug addiction that aren’t quite so fair-minded. For instance, families who live in areas where drug abuse and addiction are more common are also forced to endure increased crime and violence. Even if they do not use drugs, their own children may be introduced to drug use earlier and with greater frequency.
It is not uncommon for a drug addict to accidentally overdose when he has become addicted to the point he can no longer obtain the euphoria he is seeking from drugs. In cases where an individual relapses following a period of detoxification, the overdose may be the result of a much lower tolerance to the drugs he formerly used on a daily basis — the same dose of a drug that satisfied his cravings a few weeks earlier is suddenly enough to take his life. Either way, the families are left to grieve and heal. Dealing with the possibility of death is also a factor that must be considered when discussing the issue of families and drug addiction. For the family members of persons addicted to drugs, the thought of losing their loved one can be overwhelming. In some cases, a family member may lash out at the addicted individual to drive them away in an attempt to lessen the pain that will come if the person were to succumb to his addiction.
Drug Addiction Affects Communities
Whether or not one’s own family member is an addict, every family in America is affected by drug use and abuse in this country. For instance, the Bureau of Justice statistics office indicates that the 2011 budget for drug-related enforcement activities was more than $15 billion dollars, and that budget was funded by each and every family in the country. Tax dollars also fund prisons and other rehabilitation programs. When we consider that many offenders are either arrested for drug-related charges or have committed crimes in order to obtain drugs, this issue becomes a financial one for all Americans.
Overall, drug addiction can tear families apart physically, emotionally and economically. It is important to understand that drug addiction is a treatable disease. Families can be saved and learn to move forward from the depths of addiction with the right assistance and the right tools for the job.