How to End the Cycle of Addiction in Your Family

How to End the Cycle of Addiction in Your Family

Substance abuse is a healthcare crisis in the United States and can often run in families. While it can be challenging, it is possible to end the cycle of addiction in your family. Taking preventative measures, setting healthy boundaries, maintaining honest communication, and seeking help when drug or alcohol use becomes a problem can help you end the cycle of addiction.

Parental Neglect Feeds the Cycle of Addiction

Parents suffering from addiction often inflict emotional and physical neglect and abuse upon their children during early developmental stages. As a result, the child grows up with an unstable sense of self and an inability to form healthy attachments as they continue to grow and mature.
Studies show children raised by parents with a substance use disorder are at an increased risk for addiction in adulthood. Other problematic parental behaviors are also linked to higher rates of adulthood addiction in children.
Parental behavioral patterns that influence addiction in adulthood include:

However, many children living in households with a substance-using parent do not experience abuse or neglect. That being said, they are at increased risk for child maltreatment and welfare involvement compared with other children according to SAMHSA.
Childhood experiences that influence addictive behaviors include:

A study in Psychiatric Services found that, compared to people who report no history of parental alcohol abuse, those who had grown up with at least one alcohol-abusing parent experienced higher rates of trauma.

Childhood Trauma and Substance Abuse

Children who grow up in an environment of substance use are commonly exposed to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Not only are these adverse experiences linked to the development of addiction in adulthood, but research also shows that they trigger changes in gene expression as a trauma response. Since the child’s genes change as a result of their environment, they are epigenetic in nature.
Interestingly, a study found that children exposed to SUD-related trauma are more likely to experience the following:

The study found that children with a history of parental abuse were four to 12 times more likely to experience substance use disorders, depression, and suicide attempts. Similarly, children from abusive families were two to four times more likely to have poor health, nicotine addiction, more than 50 sexual partners, and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Sufferers of childhood trauma are also 1.5 times more likely to develop severe obesity or patterns of physical inactivity. 

How To Stop the Cycle of Addiction

For many families across the country, the struggle of addiction is a difficult cycle to break, but it’s not impossible. Growing up with a parent battling drug or alcohol abuse, it is important to know that you always have a choice regarding how you will live your life.
Harsh realities and the questions people have to face to stop the cycle of addiction include:

To whoever needs to hear this today: the struggle you have seen in your family does not need to be your own. You have the power to stop the cycle.

Breaking the Cycle of Addiction in Your Family

An estimated 25% of U.S. children are exposed to alcohol abuse or dependence in the family. Since the first meeting in 1977, Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) has worked to address the health and social problems that affect children growing up in addiction-filled households. While 12-step groups have grown throughout the U.S., these community-based groups affect members in different ways. Committed members of self-help groups for adult children of alcoholics and addiction process their childhood and alter perceptions of their family members.
To break the cycle of addiction in your family, you must accept the following:

Transforming your worldview can help you avoid falling into the same patterns of abuse that feed the cycle of addiction in your family. Understanding the causes and effects of your parent’s alcohol or drug abuse can help you reframe your childhood experiences. For example, your parents are people too. Before you entered the picture, they lived a whole life of unique experiences likely filled with unresolved pain and trauma that continues to feed their addictive behaviors. Make peace with the truth that their path in life does not have to become yours.
Your perspective in life will determine your life path. By changing the way you look at your childhood, you can change your life and break the cycle of addiction in your family.

Recovering From the Effects of Family Addiction

Don’t believe that just because your parent or another loved one struggles, you must live out your days struggling too. It doesn’t need to define who you are and what you do. You have the power to break the cycle and start a new beginning for your family. Here’s how.
To break the cycle of addiction, you must:

Each day you have a choice—you can take steps to move forward with purpose or stay rooted in the past. While you cannot control your parent’s addiction, you are in charge of yourself. Allow yourself to heal and grow by deciding the memories from your childhood will no longer rule over your life choices. Even more, you may not have control over everything that happens in your life, but you do have control over how you respond. It is important to recognize that you hold the power to break the cycle of addiction in your family. You can be the one who ends it.
Take the pain of growing up in a household of addiction and use it as fuel to push you forward. In therapy and treatment, you can learn from your parents’ mistakes, find healthier ways to cope with your feelings, and mold a new fulfilling life in recovery. 

Looking For Help?

If you are looking for supportive resources for yourself or addiction treatment options for a loved one, please reach out by calling 866-881-1184. We’re available 24/7, and every call is free and confidential.


Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA


Alexandra Kraska
Kelly McIntyre
Medically Reviewed by Kelly McIntyre, MS, LMFT

3 Responses

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