How Family Dynamics Can Influence Substance Abuse

The most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found alarming rates of substance use disorder (SUD) and mental illness in 2021. That year, nearly one in three adults and 46% of young adults had either SUD or mental illness. As these conditions continue to affect people’s lives everywhere, it is necessary to discuss potential underlying causes and risk factors. Specifically, family dynamics play an undeniable role in substance abuse.

At 12 South Recovery, we recognize that unhealthy family dynamics can influence a person’s decision to engage in initial alcohol and drug use. We also acknowledge the vital role that family members can play in helping their loved one recover from SUD and addiction. Addiction is a family disease. All family members deserve the space and support to heal from the consequences of their family member’s substance abuse. Fortunately, we offer a number of treatment services and family programs to help families healthily reconstruct family dynamics to enable lasting healing and sobriety.

Understanding Family Dynamics

According to the book Family Dynamics by Bahareh Jabbari and Audra Rouster, “Family dynamics refers to the patterns of interactions among relatives, their roles and relationships, and the various factors that shape their interactions.” Families remain the primary source of learning and nurturing throughout an individual’s life, particularly during adolescence.

The authors explain, “Interpersonal interactions among family members have lasting impacts and influence the development and well-being of an individual via psychosocial, behavioral, and physiological pathways.” In other words, healthy family dynamics influence positive well-being and behavior. On the other hand, unhealthy family dynamics lead to negative well-being and behavior.

Healthy Family Dynamics

The aforementioned book identifies the following factors that contribute to healthy family dynamics:

  • Individuation
  • Mutuality (recognized as the strongest contributing factor)
  • Flexibility
  • Stability
  • Clear communication
  • Role reciprocity

Healthy family dynamics provide all family members with unconditional love and support, ensuring that each member feels valued, respected, and heard. Members encourage one another to embrace their emotions, repair harm caused to others, and build each other up. Ironically enough, healthy family dynamics also serve as a protective factor against substance use, abuse, and addiction.

Unhealthy Family Dynamics

Conversely, unhealthy family dynamics serve as a risk factor for early alcohol and drug use as well as the development of SUD, addiction, and other mental health disorders. The aforementioned book also identifies factors that contribute to unhealthy family dynamics. These include:

  • Enmeshment
  • Isolation
  • Rigidity
  • Disorganization
  • Unclear communication
  • Role conflict

Unhealthy family dynamics are often created from a dysfunctional family structure. In general, dysfunctional family traits involve secrecy, neglect, abuse, denial, and/or addiction. Family members experiencing unhealthy family dynamics may attempt to dominate or control one another, ignore one another’s opinions, or even perpetrate trauma upon other family members. Furthermore, unhealthy family dynamics can trigger developmental delays, cognitive impairments, and low self-esteem in family members.

Why Do Unhealthy Family Dynamics Inform Alcohol and Drug Use?

Individuals who grow up feeling unloved, unheard, or unsupported as a result of unhealthy family dynamics are vulnerable to developing maladaptive behaviors in an effort to cope with their hardships. Some common examples of maladaptive behaviors that family members may adopt include behavioral addictions such as gaming, gambling, sex, and shopping. People may also develop chemical addictions like alcohol and drug addiction. Unfortunately, substance abuse is one of the most common maladaptive behaviors that family members may develop in response to unhealthy family dynamics.

Individuals may initially turn to alcohol and other drug use in an attempt to self-medicate their emotional and mental distress. Self-medicating refers to the use of substances to treat, manage, or otherwise resolve unwanted mental health symptoms. Unfortunately, however, chronic substance use poses severe harm to the health and well-being of family members.

While substance abuse may seem like an effective solution for resolving emotional distress, the solution is temporary and causes additional harm. Not only does recurrent alcohol and drug use provide no long-term solution for mental health, but it also triggers the development of SUD and addiction over time. With continued substance abuse, an individual’s brain and body will begin to rely on the substance to function normally in daily life. Further, those who engage in recurrent substance abuse also experience increased risks of developing additional mental health disorders.

Heal From Substance Abuse by Healing Family Dynamics

At 12 South Recovery, we are committed to helping our clients heal from the devastating effects of substance abuse and mental health disorders. Our primary goals are to identify the root cause(s) of a client’s substance use and to do all we can to help them overcome it. We combine therapy, counseling, and medical support in all of our treatment programs. This integrative approach ensures that individuals have access to all of the resources they need to establish and maintain lasting sobriety in their lives.

Moreover, at our facility, we are passionate about incorporating family therapy into our clients’ individualized treatment plans. Family therapy focuses on healing the entire family system, including reconstructing family dynamics. When family therapy is utilized during treatment, this allows clients to actively repair any damage caused by substance abuse while addressing problem areas in family dynamics. Furthermore, our family program can offer continued support and guidance in healing family dynamics and preventing future substance abuse.

If your life has been affected by substance use, it can be helpful to understand the role that unhealthy family dynamics often play in alcohol and drug use. Family dynamics refers to the patterns of relationships and behaviors shared among family members. If you felt unloved, unsupported, or invalidated while you were growing up as a result of unhealthy family dynamics, this likely played a role in your decision to use alcohol and other drugs. At 12 South Recovery, we encourage your family to heal together through our family therapy and family program options. We can help you establish and maintain lasting sobriety by helping you reconstruct your family dynamics. Learn more by calling (888) 830-8374 today.

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