A Negative Home Environment and Substance Use Disorder

An unhealthy family dynamic can instill trauma in members of the family, increasing the risk of alcohol use disorder (AUD) or substance use disorder (SUD). If you are entrenched in an unsafe environment at home and concerned for your mental and emotional wellbeing, look for signs of abuse and take the actions necessary to help yourself and your family.

How Does Trouble in the Home Increase Chances for Developing a SUD?

Often, perpetrators of abuse struggle with AUD or SUD due to traumatic experiences in their own lives. Exposure to this behavior, coupled with the abuse enacted by this person, has lasting effects on victims and witnesses of abuse. SUD is the result of genetic disposition to addiction triggered by traumatic events. Using drugs and alcohol to numb yourself from the physical or emotional pain of abuse–or the guilt of witnessing abuse–will lead to the development of an SUD.

Not all abuse dynamics are between a parental figure and a child. Children may harm other siblings or themselves. Adult children may refuse care to a parent in need of medical assistance. Be aware that abuse does not always look the way you expect it to look.

Signs of an Unhealthy Environment

Physical, sexual, and emotional abuse can take many forms; however, when that abuse is instigated by a member of the family, their harmful actions could go unnoticed and, thus, persist for years. 

Physical Abuse: Physical abuse is causing intentional bodily harm. This type of abuse does not necessarily take the form of public performance acts like hitting, kicking, and shoving. Pinching, gripping, and scratching obscured areas of the body to hide bruises or other marks are also acts of physical abuse. The covert form of harm may be harder to spot. Signs of physical abuse include bruising or scratch marks, changes in behavior, and open wounds.
Sexual Abuse: Sexual abusers harm victims through non-consensual sexual violence. Sexual abuse does not need to be penatrative to be abuse. Touching or groping, taking pornographic photographs, and making sexually explicit comments are all forms of sexual abuse. Rape and unwanted sexual activity is also sexual abuse, even between domestic partners–if one party does not consent to sex or consents under coercion, the act is abuse. Signs of sexual abuse include bruising on and around genetalia, unexplained bleeding, and torn clothes and undergarments.
Emotional Abuse: Intentionally causing emotional or mental anguish is emotional abuse. Depreciating a victim’s self-confidence through insulting or harassing them is a form of emotional abuse. Isolating a person from friends or family through intimidation tactics is also emotional abuse. A victim of emotional abuse feels weak and unimportant. Signs of emotional abuse include poor self-confidence, nervousness, and extreme withdrawal.
Neglect: Perpetrators of neglect refuse to provide necessary resources like food, water, and emotional support to the object(s) of their abuse. This can look like an adult figure withholding resources from a child as well as an adult child failing to offer medical assistance and other needs to a vulnerable member of their family. Signs of neglect include malnutrition, unsafe living conditions, and untreated health problems.

The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services published a thorough list of the types and signs of abuse. Reference their website for more information regarding the signs of abuse and action to take if you witness or experience abuse at the hands of a family member.

What Can You Do?

Seek immediate help for your loved ones and yourself. Find a safe space, like a friend’s home or a shelter, and leave the site of abuse. If you are uncomfortable calling local law enforcement, consider reaching out to programs that protect victims of abuse such as the National Domestic Abuse Hotline or child abuse and neglect prevention programs. Constant and long-term abuse may have left you with a SUD and comorbid psychological conditions. Consult with a mental health professional to decide which rehabilitation program will be most effective. Your loved ones will also benefit from treatment. Urge members of your household to seek therapy, even if they are unwilling to do so. When they are able to address and express their experiences, they will be able to relieve trauma and grow emotionally. Early treatment can prevent the development of a SUD later in life.


Evaluate your relationship with the people in your household and consider alternatives if a toxic domestic environment led you to SUD. At Silver Lining Recovery, we will provide you with a holistic treatment program tailored to your unique needs. Our team of dedicated mental health professionals will walk with you as you take the first steps in recovery. We want you to feel confident in yourself and your sobriety inside the facility and, after completion of the program, in your social and professional spheres. If you’re interested in joining our recovery community, please call us today at (866) 448-4563 for a consultation.


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