How Addiction Impacts American Families

Drugs can have an insidious impact on users, especially when addiction gets a hold of them. It is often assumed that the person who suffers the most from the addiction is the user, but others are affected too. The family members and friends of the person battling addiction are often the first to feel the negative impacts of addiction. 

Nearly 21 million Americans struggle with substance abuse addictions, and many families are being broken as a result. Based on this frightening statistic, it must be considered how these families are being impacted and whether or not they have access to resources that could help improve their situations on top of the situation of the addict. 

How Addiction Affects Families 

Research has found that addiction affects various family structures in different ways. However, a common theme is family members having to take on roles that they may not typically take on to care for their addicted family member. If, for example, a child has a parent battling with addiction, they may take on the role of a caregiver, which can be burdensome both physically, mentally, and emotionally. Another family structure that could be impacted by addiction is elderly parents living with older children. If the older child has an addiction, it could lead to a situation where the elderly parent is being abused.

Addiction can create a string of problems for all family members, one being conflict. When users put addiction first, it can increase arguments and, in some instances, lead to violence. Aside from impacting the family, addiction can also affect employers and put them at risk. More specifically, addiction can lower productivity and increase absenteeism as well as healthcare costs for the employer. 

Barriers to Treatment 

People struggling with addiction encounter various barriers when trying to access treatment. The most recurring one is not having access to medication that has proven to help patients recover from addiction. An article on WebMD by Robert Preidt about poor minorities getting less help for opioid addiction found that out of the 2.3 million Americans who have an opioid use disorder, less than half are getting approved medications to combat that addiction.

A barrier that people in rural areas face specifically is not having access to treatment that could help them recover, mainly because physicians can’t prescribe it. A study published in the Annals of Family Medicine discovered that physicians in 60% of rural counties in the U.S. don’t have a waiver to prescribe buprenorphine, which is a medication used to help prevent withdrawal symptoms that arise when stopping the use of opioids. It is also used as part of a comprehensive program for drug abuse that includes counseling and monitoring. 

To make matters worse, Preidt also found that poor people get less help for combating their opioid addiction. A new study has found that minorities and people living in poverty are less likely to acquire medication for their addiction, which suggests that there are inequalities in access to treatment. People who are willing to pay for buprenorphine by cash or through private insurance seem to have better access than those on Medicare or Medicaid. This results in people going without help, especially in the midwest. 

A barrier to access for youths battling addiction is federal regulations that prevent children under the age of 18 from receiving methadone, a drug frequently used in treatment programs. Irrespective of the fact that that one in ten kids between 12 and 17 are currently using illicit drugs, there are few people under the age of 18 who can receive medication-assisted treatment, which consists of counseling, behavioral therapy, and the administration of craving-reducing medications.

In some states, there are legal barriers to gaining medical assistance. One is that a person battling addiction overdose can be arrested for being in possession of drugs. However, the Good Samaritan Law prevents people in need of immediate medical assistance from being arrested or charged with possession in the event of a drug-related emergency. More people being aware of this knowledge could potentially save lives in the case of medical emergencies.

Possible Solutions 

There are several things that can be done to help those battling addiction. Considering the mentioned barriers, action should focus on making sure that everyone battling addiction has access to treatment. The department of health and human services has even included access to treatment as a point in their five-point opioid strategy. Granting waivers to physicians in rural areas and training them on how to deal with opioid addiction is also a possible solution. 

To help teens battling addiction, more treatment programs should be developed for them. Such programs can include medication, therapy, and the help of social workers trained to help people struggling with addiction, as well as substance-abuse nurses who are trained to recognize the warning signs of someone abusing drugs. Federal regulations that prohibit teens from receiving methadone and any other craving-reducing medications should also be reconsidered to increase accessibility. 

Family therapy is another way to help reduce the negative impacts of addiction. Such professionals can teach coping mechanisms for both the addict and the family to help them live with the disease. Applied behavior analysis, a therapy-based approach to understanding behaviors, can also be used to identify the causes of addiction and possible solutions. Aside from therapy, community support from local treatment centers could go a long way as well. 

Addiction has detrimental effects on individuals, families, and society as a whole. Despite the many interventions that the government has put in place, there’s still much work to be done. By being relentless about finding and implementing effective solutions, the prospect of preserving American families seems more promising.

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Brooke Faulkner is a mother of two and wilderness enthusiast. When she's not writing, she can usually be found zipping around the mountains on her ATV.

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