Family Members of Adults with Substance Abuse Problems

Although family members of individuals with addictive disorders frequently have been studied, there has been little recognition in the field of addiction of the caregiver role played by these individuals.

Early theories tended to blame family members for the addictive problems, but later theories acknowledged the stress created by being in a close relationship with someone suffering from and addictive disorder.

Substance abuseThere is widespread knowledge that the negative consequences of drug abuse are not limited to the person using substances; rather, they impact the families of drug abusers in particular. Still little if any research has looked at the caregiver role of family members and significant others and theories that view the caregiver as character-flawed -- or co-dependent, are still widely held.

Family members have increased prevalence of illness and domestic violence, in addition to deteriorated psychological and interpersonal functioning, including problems with social adjustment, the relationship with the drug using person, family cohesion, enmeshment, interpersonal conflict, stress, and in the case of children, behavior problems. Family members of substance abusers also must deal with legal and financial problems. The combination of problems can have substantial and widespread impact. For example, the families of drug users have health care utilization rates that potentially can be four times greater than that of average families.

Despite wide acknowledgement that family members are seriously affected by the drug abuse, and general acknowledgement that they are not only concerned about their loved one but also deal with the negative effects of the disease, they have had limited options for help or treatment involvement. This is unfortunate, because research suggests that they not only can benefit from receiving help, but they also can influence the addicted individual.


The following interventions for caregivers with an adult with substance abuse disorders have been examined in at least one randomized trial.