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The Collateral Costs Of Addiction

by Kristin Stewart, AHIP Manager, Special Projects

October 10, 2018

More than 115 people in the United States die every day from overdosing on opioids.

Prescription opioid misuse in the United States accounts for $78.5 billion a year in costs related to health care, lost productivity, and crime.

About 21 percent to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them and between 8 percent and 12 percent develop an opioid use disorder.

These are just a few of the statistics that have become part of our national narrative on opioids. What is often missing in this narrative is the impact on the families and children of those with substance use disorders—the unintentional “collateral damage” of the opioid epidemic.

Substance use disorders prevent a person from being a full participant in a family—whether as a parent, child, sibling, grandparent, etc. And in some cases, substance use and addiction within a family can result in violence, neglect, and financial insecurity. The remaining family members, painfully aware of the lack of engagement of their addicted loved one, undergo their own form of suffering—experiencing depression, anger, anxiety, or helplessness. The toll this takes on family members’ health, well-being, and productivity is very powerful and very real.  Increased access to naloxone has empowered many families to be able to reverse a loved one’s drug overdose, providing some critical relief. But the underlying fear of possible death due to overdose still remains.

And when a loved one struggling with a substance use disorder fatally overdoses, the pain and loss felt by the family members left behind can impact their other relationships, health, and ability to move forward. While recovery after the death of an addicted loved one may seem elusive, seeking support from others—and even giving support to others—can help in dealing with the loss.

A family-oriented approach to treatment recognizes the ripple effect of substance use and addiction and the need for treatment to extend beyond the addicted individual to have the best chance of success. Addiction specialists and other clinicians who treat individuals with substance use disorders should look for treatment opportunities that encompass family member involvement. This supports both the addicted individual and family members on a path to understanding, coping with, and ultimately recovering from substance use disorders.