What role do families play in addiction

Addiction in the family

Table of Contents

1. The changing family - then and now

2. Risk and protective factors

3. Forms of addiction in the family

4. Consequences and Effects

5. Support offers and preventive measures

6. Literature

1. The changing family - then and now

The family has an important socializing effect. It conveys values ​​and norms, structures, organizes and evaluates experiences, serves as an environmental mediator, supports the development of ecological offerings and has an enormous influence on the scope and quality of social and learning experiences. In addition, the style of upbringing in the family, the family climate and the positions of family members play an important role.[1]

Over the past five decades, it has been noticeable that the family as an institution has undergone major structural changes. The nuclear family, as it used to be known - consisting of father, mother and usually two children - is no longer typical and a matter of course today. In the past, the mother took care of the household, looked after the children and the husband earned the money. It is not uncommon for several family members to live in a one-room apartment. Up until the 1960s, marriage was a matter of course for 90% of adults and was part of life. However, the importance of the family as an institution has declined since the 1960s. Not only are fewer and fewer adults marrying nowadays, fewer and fewer children are being born and women are becoming more and more employed. The creation of a self-determined life is moving more into the foreground. As a result of these changes, we find a wide variety of pluralization and individualization of family forms in society, which are becoming more and more natural. These range from married and illegitimate partnerships, single parents (especially single mothers), shared apartments with children, parents living apart, through blended families and remarried parents with children and stepchildren. The number of families with relatively poor socialization conditions continues to rise due to social and economic disadvantage, separation and divorce.[2]

The role of parents as social role models and contact persons plays an important role in a constantly changing society with ever new requirements. In today's world, the demands on education have grown significantly. In addition to the pluralization and individualization of forms of life, the decision-making and action processes are becoming more and more complex. Disorientation, uncertainty and confusion are reflected in society. Social and cultural security is dwindling, people's social support networks become pitted, action-guiding values ​​become less binding and life structures are prone to failure. There are no or only a few predetermined life paths and discontinuities and confusion in life grow. This can lead to excessive demands in everyday life for family members.

2. Risk and protective factors

When talking about addictive disorders in the family, it is important not to see them as an autonomous system. Every family is involved in a social and economic environment that exerts a variety of influences on the family. If disturbances or problems arise (e.g. because a family member no longer sees himself or herself up to the social demands and expectations), it can happen that those affected resort to other substances such as medication, alcohol or drugs. The family can on the one hand be a risk factor for the development of addictions, but also a protective factor against addictions and abuse.

In a family it is important to be there for one another, to stick together, to take responsibility, to recognize and appreciate family members, to give affection and love and to care for one another. Close personal ties, comradeship, solidarity and love stabilize family relationships. Disturbances in the family's relationship processes can impair identity formation. Family members with closed, fearful, sensitive and easily vulnerable personalities who also have a low tolerance for frustration are often more susceptible to risk factors than strong and stable personalities. Dependency diseases in the family represent an almost unbearable burden for family members. This can lead to despair, psychological breakdowns, feelings of guilt and shame, financial hardship, sacrifice and humiliation.[3]

It is particularly difficult for children and adolescents if their parents are addicted to drugs or alcohol, for example. Parents assume an important role model function and responsibility.

The Federal Center for Health Education lists the following possible risk factors in the family:

1. “Dissolution of the family and risk of addiction

- The family no longer conveys values ​​and norms, which means disorientation, more drug use and a higher risk of addiction for everyone.
- The family no longer provides role models (model behavior), which means a higher risk of addiction for the youth.
- The family no longer offers any resources, networks or solidarity, which means a higher risk of addiction for everyone.

2. Troubled families and risk of addiction

- Incomplete families (ex broken home): “Divorced families”, “fatherless / motherless families”, “stepfamilies”, “career families” etc. are family forms that can lead to neglect and disconnection of children and adolescents, then there is a risk of addiction.

3. Family upbringing styles and risk of addiction

Addictive parenting styles

- repressive,
- indifferent,
- over-protective / heated
- permissive,
- pseudo-harmonic (familism)

4. Childhood family trauma and risk of addiction

- Power, violence and sexual abuse (especially among women)

5. Family, social structural constraints and risk of addiction

- Family and defavored social environment (housing conditions, poverty)
- Family and economic crisis, unemployment. "[4]

In contrast, there are also some protective factors in the family:

- positive feelings of self-worth, future expectations, religious attitudes, support from parents, school and friends,
- family-friendly values, norms, orientations, role models, models, resources, networks, solidarity, social relationships, complete families, correct parenting styles, the absence of family trauma,
- Solidarity, positive attitude towards life, coping strategies, social skills, cohesion, love, responsibility, recognition, appreciation.[5]

3. Forms of addiction in the family

In the FRG there are around 2.5 million people at risk of alcohol and alcohol and a total of around six million people directly and indirectly affected by the disease. This means the social environment, i.e. the family[6].

A simple illustration of this problem is not possible, since the family can be affected and addicted in many ways[7]. This means that drug use and dependence can take different forms in it. What can be shown in general with regard to addiction also applies here: In addition to substance-related dependence, there are also substance-independent behavior disorders. Within the substance-related addictions, the WHO distinguishes between those of illegal drugs such as cannabis, hallucinogens, narcotics, stimulants, synthetic drugs and those of legal drugs such as alcohol, drugs, inhalants and nicotine or tobacco. Unrelated behavioral disorders include eating disorders, television addiction, shopping addiction, work addiction, gambling addiction, esteem / greed / power addiction as well as sex addiction and other disorders.

In addition to the form and type of dependency of the family member or family members, it plays a decisive role which and how many family members are affected by the addiction disease. Consequently, a distinction can be made between addictions of both parents or one of the parents and the substance abuse of children and adolescents[8].

Many studies indicate that we are dealing with very different groups of people in the context of the addiction burden in the family, who have similarities but also differences. As already mentioned, these are e.g. whether one parent is dependent or both are dependent. If only one parent is affected, it is important to ask which parent is affected, father or mother. In addition, it is crucial whether the parents have other disorders in addition to the addiction disease[9]. It also makes a difference whether the parent is still dependent or whether they have been drug-free for years. The gender of the affected children also plays a role in this context[10]. It is therefore imperative to look at this problem and what is happening in the family in its overall context.

4. Consequences and Effects

In Germany there are over 2.5 million children under the age of 18 who grow up with at least one parent who is addicted. These children often suffer from cognitive impairments as well as social, psychological and physical stress[11]. It is incredibly stressful for children to grow up in a family in which the father or mother or even both are addicted to alcohol or other drugs.

First of all, children of parents with addictions are at great risk of becoming dependent themselves. It can be assumed that the younger it is in the phase of illness of the addicted parent, the more severely a child's mental and social development will be disturbed. The addiction disease occupies such a large space in the family structure or in the family system that there is hardly any space left for anything else; especially not for the child and his needs. The younger the child is, the less it will find opportunities to experience security, security and bonds. On the contrary, mostly it experiences coldness, insecurity, isolation and loneliness, distant satisfaction of needs and no identification in the sense of its ego development. Often it is not even supplied with the bare essentials. Therefore, severe schizoid disorders are further consequences for children from families with addiction problems. In addition, the child also falls short in later development phases. His fears, confusion and excessive demands are often not noticed or even perceived as pleasant[12].

If the parent's addiction phase sets in at a later point in time, when the child has already developed stable psychological maturity, a strong emotional burden sets in, because the illness affects it in its solidarity with the family. The older child is included in the family's isolation process. It gets involved in the process of covering up, covering up, and shame and guilt. This has an impact on his social contacts, which are heavily strained as a result. It breaks off its social contacts, which can go so far that it is more likely to accept declining school performance and staying seated than to confide in someone. It also happens that the child is assigned the scapegoat role, which it ultimately takes on because of its perceived share of guilt in the situation. In addition, against promises and threats, it must secretly obtain the search agent[13].

It is also undisputed that the addiction of a parent or parents, with all its tensions, conflicts and fears, already affects the unborn child[14]. The parent's addiction is likely[15] do not remain without consequences for the development of the unborn child. Physical damage should be mentioned, including those caused by physical abuse. The probability of violence occurring in families with addiction problems is significantly higher than in the rest of the population.


[1] See Hurrelmann, Klaus and Unverzagt, Gerlinde; 2000; P.127-137

[2] See Federal Center for Health Education; 1999; P. 26-29

[3] See Federal Center for Health Education; 1999; Pp. 27-29

[4] See Federal Center for Health Education; 1999; P.29-30

[5] See Federal Center for Health Education; 1999; P.30

[6] See Lindemann, p.31.

[7] Both with regard to the strength and type of the addiction disease as well as with regard to the effects and consequences.

[8] See Kuntz (2005), p. 47.

[9] This is especially important in the case of an antisocial personality disorder.

[10] See Lindemann (2006), p. 16.

[11] See Lindemann (2006), p. 41.

[12] See Lindemann (2006), pp.25-26.

[13] See Lindemann (2006), pp. 27-28

[14] See Lindemann (2006), p. 19.

[15] The likelihood of malfunctions is high, but not necessarily.

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