Addiction is endemic in American families, says USA Today. A USA TODAY/HBO survey found that one in five said they had an immediate relative who at some point had been addicted to alcohol or drugs. That translates into roughly 40 million adults with a spouse, parent, sibling or child who has battled addiction. It doesn’t count the millions of children living with an addicted parent. H. Westley Clark, director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment at the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA, says he’s not surprised about the survey finding.
Addiction is a family disease. “For every person who’s alcoholic or dependent on other drugs, there are at least four or five people hurt on a regular basis,” says Sis Wenger of the National Association for Children of Alcoholics. Pay attention to those four or five people as well as their addicted family member, and you increase the likelihood of a successful recovery, says Charles Curie, administrator of SAMHSA. “More and more, you’re unable to make a real impact on someone’s addiction unless the family as a whole is considered,” he says. When only one spouse drinks heavily or uses drugs or does both, chances are it’s the husband. In the USA TODAY/HBO poll, 31 percent of women who had an addicted relative mentioned their spouse, compared with only 12 percent of men. Women were significantly more likely than men to say that a family member’s addiction had hurt their mental and physical health and their marriage.