Heroin addiction can fracture and damage family ties and relationships with immediate and extended family members.

The effects of drug abuse on families can be severe and long-lasting, especially when one member of the family struggles with heroin addiction. Most discussions about addiction focus on the person who uses heroin, but addiction impacts the lives of everyone around them, including family members and friends

As the prevalence of heroin abuse and addiction increases, it’s important to identify the effects of drug abuse on family members so that everyone, including loved ones, can get the support they need to overcome heroin addiction.

Article at a Glance:

Important points to remember about how heroin affects families include:

  • Heroin impacts more than just the person with the addiction
  • Parents of people with heroin addiction face a greater risk of outliving their child
  • Partners of people with heroin addiction are more likely to experience domestic abuse
  • Children of people with heroin addiction are more likely to suffer sexual or physical abuse

Heroin Affects Parents

Heroin use is increasing among most demographics in the United States, including adolescents and teens. According to recent data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, nearly one out of every four people ages 18-20 abused an illicit substance in the month prior to the survey. 

Being the parent of someone who struggles with heroin addiction can be physically, emotionally, and financially draining. There are several signs of heroin addiction that parents may notice. The child or adult may become closed-off, distant and dishonest. Parents may find that their teen or adult child is stealing money or items from them to sell to buy heroin. 

When young people abuse drugs, they usually engage in riskier criminal or sexual activity. Therefore, parents may have to bail their children out of trouble or extract them from dangerous situations. Parents may also have to live through the premature death of a child. Alarmingly, from 1999-2016, the rate of fatal heroin overdoses in teens aged 15-19 increased by 404%.

Heroin Affects Partners

The use of drugs, including heroin, leads to a significant number of divorces annually. When a person’s spouse struggles with heroin addiction, they face an increased chance of domestic violence and abuse as well. 

Additionally, one study reported that married or cohabiting people who abuse drugs, including heroin, are up to six times more likely than people in the general population to have experienced intimate partner violence in the past year. Married couples where one or both spouses have an addiction to heroin may also grapple with job loss, bankruptcy and homelessness.

Partners of people who use heroin may engage in codependent relationships. A codependent partner enables the self-destructive behavior of their loved one. Examples of codependent behavior include making excuses for the partner’s drug abuse or making personal sacrifices to satisfy the partner’s needs.

Heroin Affects Children

As much as parents and spouses are affected by drug use, perhaps no group experiences more long-lasting damage than the children of individuals living with heroin addiction. 

Data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration states that approximately 1 in 8 children 17 or younger live in a house with one parent who has a substance use disorder. 

Compared to their peers, children of parents who use heroin are at a higher risk of:

  • Infectious diseases, including gastrointestinal and respiratory conditions
  • Deficiency-related diseases, including malnutrition and anemia
  • Experiencing neglect, maltreatment and abandonment
  • Frequent hospitalizations
  • Increased risk of delinquency and marginality

Additionally, a parent with a substance use disorder, such as heroin addiction, is three times more likely to sexually or physically abuse their child.

Heroin Affects Siblings

One concern with siblings of people who use heroin is the increased likelihood that the sibling will also start misusing drugs. Older siblings model behaviors subsequently influence the behaviors of their younger siblings, and drug abuse is no exception. Research shows that a substantial resemblance in substance abuse among siblings exists, for reasons including modeling behaviors, collusion and conflict.

Additionally, siblings of people who use heroin have reported feeling an imbalance in attention and resources available due to the addiction taking center stage in the family. Older siblings may also be pushed into parenting their younger siblings or even a parent when one or both parents suffers from addiction. 

Heroin Affects Extended Families

Heroin use affects extended families similarly to how it affects the immediate family. For many families, the relationships begin to break down as one family member’s heroin addiction worsens.

Relationships and spending time together typically becomes less important as heroin begins to control a person’s life. Family members may also lose trust in the family member who struggles with addiction if the person lies or steals.

Heroin can affect more than just the people who use it. If you have a family member with a heroin addiction, call The Recovery Village today. Caring representatives can help you or someone in your family find an accredited addiction treatment center that can offer comprehensive care.

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Editor – Camille Renzoni
Cami Renzoni is a creative writer and editor for The Recovery Village. As an advocate for behavioral health, Cami is certified in mental health first aid and encourages people who face substance use disorders to ask for the help they deserve. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Conor Sheehy, PharmD, BCPS, CACP
Dr. Sheehy completed his BS in Molecular Biology at the University of Idaho and went on to complete his Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) at the University of Washington in Seattle. Read more

The National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Nationwide Trends.” Revised 2015. Accessed June 17, 2019.

Gaither, Julie R., et al. “US National Trends in Pediatric Death[…]ids, 1999–2016.” JAMA Network Open, 2018. Accessed June 17, 2019.

Klostermann, Keith, and Michelle Kelley.  “Alcoholism and Intimate Partner Viole[…]ocial Adjustment.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2009. Accessed June 17, 2019.

Lander, Laura, et al. “The Impact of Substance Use Disorders[…]eory to Practice.” Social Work in Public Health, 2013. Accessed June 17, 2019.

Lipari, Rachel N., Ph.D.; Van Horn, Struther L., M.A. “Children Living with Parents Who Have[…]nce Use Disorder.” The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2017. Accessed June 17, 2019.

Low, Sabina; Shortt, Joann Wu; Snyder, James. “Sibling influences on adolescent subs[…]on, and conflict.” Development and Psychopathology, 2013. Accessed June 25, 2019.

Casado, Flores; Baño, Rodrigo A; Lirio, Casero J; Solera Oliva R. “Children of heroin-addicted parents: […]udy of 110 cases.” 1993. Accessed June 25, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.