Families of Drug and Alcohol Abusers Pay an Emotional Toll

by Lydia Saad

Alcohol addiction just as upsetting as drugs

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- The collateral damage that drug abuse can have on an addict's loved ones is documented in a 2006 survey conducted by Gallup for USA Today and HBO. A randomly selected sample of 902 U.S. adults with an immediate family member (a father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter, or spouse) with a drug or alcohol addiction was interviewed for the survey in late April 2006.

The vast majority of respondents say their family member's addiction has had either a major or minor negative effect on their own mental or emotional health; half have experienced interpersonal problems with other family members. Fewer say their family member's addiction has caused financial difficulties.

Highly negative reactions are particularly pronounced when the addicted person is a spouse. About half of those with an addicted spouse say they have experienced major negative effects on their emotional health. The next most upsetting experience is having an addicted child (38% with this experience report major emotional problems), followed by a parent (29%), or a sibling (24%).

When combining the percentage of respondents experiencing major negative effects on their emotional health, marriage, or relationships with other family members, a net 41% of those surveyed can be considered highly affected by family addiction. Separately, a similar number (49%) say they have felt a sense of shame over having an addicted family member. Quite notably, there is little difference in these attitudes according to whether the addiction involved drugs or alcohol.

Despite the fairly widespread feeling of shame, only 19% of those surveyed -- including 18% of men and 20% of women -- say they ever tried to hide their family member's addiction from family or friends. There is no difference in this according to the age of the respondent or type of addiction involved.

The same number of family members, 19%, report having received professional counseling as a result of the emotional or interpersonal difficulties caused by the addicted person. Another 5% say they felt the need to get professional counseling, but never did.

Women Bear the Brunt

The study suggests women are disproportionately affected by family addiction. Not only are women more likely than men to fall into the survey -- but within the sample of those who have a family member affected by addiction, women are more likely than men to say they have experienced major negative emotional or interpersonal consequences from family addiction: 45% of women vs. 35% of men. Women with an addicted family member are also more likely than men in the same circumstances to say they ever felt a sense of shame over their family member's addiction: 54% vs. 41%.

At the same time, those men who do report experiencing major emotional or interpersonal difficulties are less likely than women in the same category to say they have sought professional help for their emotional problems: 48% of men vs. 63% of women.

Financial Devastation is Rare

Treatment for drug and alcohol addiction can be extremely expensive, especially for those with no health insurance coverage, and family members may be called upon to help with these expenses. While four in ten family members say that their family members' addiction resulted in at least minor negative effects on their personal finances, only 17% say they experienced major negative effects. Furthermore, only about half of this group, representing 8% of the total sample, reports that they went into debt over the addiction, either by taking out a loan or running up credit card bills.

16A. (Asked of those for whom addiction had "major negative effect" on financial situation) Have you ever had to take out a loan or run up large credit card bills as a direct result of your family member's addiction, or not?

COMBINED RESPONSES (Q.15A/16A): BASED ON FULL SAMPLE

%

Major negative effect on financial situation

17

(Had to take out a loan/run up credit card bills)

(8)

(Did not have to take out loan/run up credit card bills)

(9)

Minor negative effect on financial situation

22

No negative effect on financial situation

60

DOESN'T APPLY (vol.)

*

No opinion

*

* Less than 0.5%

(vol.) Volunteered response

Similarly, while 8% say they suffered major negative consequences in their job, only 2% say they were fired from a job because of poor performance due to a family member's addiction.

16B. (Asked of those for whom addiction had "major negative effect" on job) Were you ever fired from a job because your performance at work suffered as a result of your family member's addiction, or not?

COMBINED RESPONSES (Q.15B/16B): BASED ON FULL SAMPLE

%

Major negative effect on financial situation

8

(Fired from job because performance suffered)

(2)

(Never fired from job)

(6)

Minor negative effect on job

17

No negative effect job

70

DOESN'T APPLY (vol.)

6

No opinion

*

* Less than 0.5%

(vol.) Volunteered response

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews conducted April 27-May 31, 2006, with a random sample of 902 U.S. adults, aged 18 and older, with an immediate family member who has had a drug or alcohol addiction. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points. Twenty percent of national adults contacted for this survey indicated that they had an immediate family member who has had an addiction to drugs or alcohol.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

11. First, what words or phrases would come to mind if you were asked to describe the effects that your "family member's" addiction has had on you, personally? [OPEN-ENDED]

%

Emotional

14

Devastating/horrible

13

Learned/grown from experience

8

Break up family relationships

7

Stressful

7

Disappointment/dismayed/loss of
respect

6

Negative affects caused by addiction/
negligence/selfishness

5

Abusive/mean/belligerent

5

Concerned/worried

5

Angry/bitter

4

Terrible/bad

4

Distrust/dishonesty

3

Anxious/scared/fearful

3

Abandonment

3

Confused/frustrated

2

Embarrassing

2

Helplessness

2

Destructive/damaging

2

Depression

2

Isolated/withdrawn

2

Financial burden

2

Insecurity

1

Physically unhealthy

1

Life-altering

1

Worthless/waste of life

1

Annoyed

1

Hate

1

Other

6

None

7

No opinion

6

12. Have you tried to keep your "family member's" addiction a secret from family or friends, or not? Did you try to keep your "family member's" addiction a secret from family or friends, or not?

Yes

No

No opinion

%

%

%

19

80

1

13. Have you, personally, ever felt a sense of shame about your "family member's" addiction, or not? Did you, personally, ever feel a sense of shame about your "family member's" addiction, or not?

Yes

No

No opinion

%

%

%

49

51

*

15. Next, thinking about the effects of your family member's addiction on your own life, has your "family member's" addiction had a major negative effect on [RANDOM ORDER], a minor negative effect, or has it not had a negative effect at all?



(Sorted by percent saying "major effect")

Major
negative
effect

Minor
negative
effect

No
negative
effect

DOESN'T
APPLY
(vol.)


No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

Your emotional or mental health

31

39

30

--

*

Your relationships with other family
members

21

30

49

--

1

Your marriage

18

20

51

11

*

Your personal financial situation

17

22

60

*

*

Your physical health

14

25

60

*

*

Your relationship with friends

12

25

62

*

*

Your job

8

17

70

6

*

* Less than 0.5%

(vol.) Volunteered response

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