Social Effects of an Addiction - Drug Addiction

We know about the physical and psychological effects of an addiction but what about the social effects?

In many ways this can be more harmful than the other two put together.

Drug addiction doesn’t just affect the addict: it has a far reaching effect which encompasses family, friends, employers, healthcare professionals and society as a whole.

If you are addicted to alcohol, nicotine, drugs or even caffeine then the effects of this can negatively impact upon the following:

  • Marriage/Relationships
  • Home/family life
  • Education
  • Employment
  • Health and wellbeing
  • Personality
  • Financial issues
  • Law and order


If you have a situation in which one half of a couple is an addict then this can cause untold hardship for the other half. The person who is addicted may have changed from a previously easy going personality to one who is prone to mood swings, violent outbursts, secrecy and other forms of extreme behaviour.

This is difficult for their partner to deal with and is even worse if there are children involved. It is both distressing and confusing for children to see one parent (or even both parents) exhibit signs of their addiction.

The person who is suffering from an addiction may be in financial difficulties which the other person is unaware of. Combine this with their irrational behaviour, paranoia and in several cases, criminal behaviour and you have a recipe for marital breakdown. In many cases the addict resorts to violence in desperation for their next ‘fix’. If he/she is craving a drink, cigarette or a particular drug but is unable to satisfy that craving - either due to a lack of money or prevented from doing so by their partner then violence is often the result.

The sad fact is that these actions are often committed by someone who is not a violent person by nature but is driven by their need for this substance. Their addiction is their main priority in life and that’s all that matters to them.

Someone in the grip of an addiction can become selfish, self-centred and oblivious to other peoples concerns. Things such as paying the mortgage and bills or other day to day issues of running a home are no longer important to them.

This often leads to a breakdown in the marriage or relationship which causes financial hardship and distress. The other half of the relationship is left to cope on his/her own which is even more difficult if there are children.

What can happen is that other members of the family closes ranks and exclude the person with the addiction. This is mainly done to protect the family from other consequences of his/her behaviour but also as a means of presenting a united front to the rest of society.


On the subject of home/family life, there is also the possibility that the rest of the family may feel embarrassed or ashamed at this behaviour. They are bothered by what others might think and are unsure as to what to do for the best.

If you are suffering from an addiction then you will probably find that your family is concerned but maybe needs you to realise that you have a problem and are prepared to face up to it.

It may seem as if your family has pushed you out but it could also be the case that they see this as a form of ‘tough love’ in which they are giving you time to reflect upon yourself and your addiction. This is done with the hope that you will seek treatment for your addiction. They will provide support and help as well but you need to take that first step.


If a child or young person is suffering from an addiction then this will impact upon their schooling, relationships with other children and their home life. One such effect of this is truanting from school.

This can happen if the child is addicted or if they have a parent who is an addict and neglects to care for them.

It is hard for a child or young person to resist the temptation of alcohol, cigarettes or drugs. A desire to be part of the gang or to try ‘forbidden fruit’ as a means of growing up can very quickly lead to addiction. Addiction tends to occur much more quickly in a young person than in an adult.

The problem is that they can be hooked from just the first time they try a substance.

If you are a parent who suspects that your child has developed an addiction then look out for signs of anti-social or erratic behaviour; unexplained absences from school; reports from the school of theft or violent behaviour from your child or that he/she has been caught drug dealing on school premises.

Their concentration will be poor and motivation will have dropped. They may be spending inordinate amounts of time in their room or on the other hand, be staying out most of the night and with people that you don’t know.

For more information on this visit our young people and addictions section.

It is equally hard if your parent or parents are the ones with an addiction. They are likely to be so concerned with seeing to their own needs that yours are forgotten about. For them it is all about their addiction whether that is alcohol, cigarettes or drugs.

Your needs are superseded by their addiction. They are controlled by their addiction and will do anything to feed it which can include criminal behaviour.

The relationship between addiction and criminal behaviour is discussed in greater detail in our addiction and crime section.


Employers are affected if any of their employees develops and addiction. The employee concerned may have changed from a smart, punctual and efficient worker to someone who is late for work, has neglected their appearance and personal hygiene and id displaying erratic or unacceptable levels of behaviour.

They may have started to go absent for no good reason, not completed their duties or stolen from colleagues and/or the company.

This results in that employee losing their job which then impacts upon their home and family life. Loss of their job means a reduction in income - especially if he/she is the main breadwinner, and puts a strain on the relationship. It can then lead to marriage/relationship breakdown and/or divorce.

It can be difficult if you suspect that one of your colleagues has become addicted and even more difficult if you work in a highly stressful job in which excessive drinking and/or drug taking is part of the company culture. If many of the team enjoy going to bars and clubs after work or it is part of the job, e.g. entertaining clients then how do you know when social use of a substance or having a few drinks with colleagues has become an addiction?

Health and wellbeing

A most obvious effect of drug addiction is that on physical health.

There are some substances such as alcohol or caffeine which is fine on an occasional basis or in moderate amounts but it is when they become a regular habit that damage to your health occurs.

A couple of cigarettes in a day can also be harmful. You may think that you are a very light smoker and that this won’t cause a problem but nicotine is a powerful stimulant and damage starts early on.

Learn more about the effects of smoking in our types of addictions section.

Drugs such as heroin, cocaine, amphetamines, poppers, ecstasy are dangerous in any amount and should be avoided. There is no such thing as a safe, moderate amount of crack cocaine or heroin.

Apart from the long term effects on health there is also the fact that an addiction can be fatal. Alcohol, cigarettes and drugs can kill either as a result of an overdose, suicide, an accident or from the physical damage caused by these substances.

Other side effects include an increase in the number of sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies and birth defects as a result of the mother’s addiction.

The health risks of drug addiction are discussed on an individual basis in our types of addictions section. This section contains information on each substance which includes a description of the substance, what it does and the risks from taking it.


Addiction affects someone’s personality and behaviour in a variety of ways although this very much depends upon the type of substance used and the amount; their psychological make up before the addiction and physical health and their lifestyle.

Some substances have a greater effect than others upon mental health, for example, heroin is stronger than nicotine and will have a bigger impact upon the brain.

Added to that is the fact that all of us are different in regard to our psychological make up which means that no two people are affected in the same way. So, one person may experience a greater level of ‘damage’ than another person using the same substance, mainly due to their brain chemistry.

So what does an addiction do to someone’s mental health and behaviour?

The most obvious sign is the fact that they behave in ways which are totally out of character. They may become secretive or deliberately offensive; self-harm; lie, cheat or steal; or place their need for their addiction above their family and friends.

Other examples including paranoia, restlessness, low self-esteem or a lack of trust in themselves and anyone else. On the other hand they may behave in an arrogant and uncaring manner as if only their needs matter and no-one else’s.

As the addiction worsens they may start to withdraw from their family and friends or spend time with people who you don’t know. The highs and low of their addiction can lead to anxiety and depression

The chemistry of the brain is affected by addiction, for example, taking crystal meth, amphetamines, cannabis, ecstasy and excessive alcohol use. These have the power to change certain structures of a person’s brain which have a dramatic affect upon that person’s personality.

Financial issues

The costs of an addiction not only affect the sufferer but can also encompass family, friends and society as a whole. There are the costs of policing, drug addiction help lines, support groups and rehab clinics. Indirectly there is lost revenue in the form of tax and national insurance contributions each time an addict loses their job or is unable to work. This means a drop in revenue for the Treasury and an increase in welfare benefits, e.g. unemployment benefit.

This may sound extreme but if you multiply all of this by the number of drug addicts in the UK then it all adds up to a hefty drain on the country’s purse strings.

On a smaller scale there is the financial damage to family or friends as the addict will resort to theft or other criminal means in order to fund their habit.

This is talked about more in our addiction and crime section.

Law and order  

People who are addicted very often turn to crime as a means of paying for their addiction. This can involve stealing or fraud to obtain the funds necessary to bankroll their addiction. This can start with stealing from one’s partner, family or friends but can spread to include their employer or several organisations.

Another aspect is that of the cost of maintaining a police force that have to deal with the after-effects of addiction. One such example and one that we hear a great deal about in the media is that of ‘binge drinking’.

People who have developed an addiction to alcohol very often engage in drunken, anti-social behaviour, usually in town and city centres up and down the country. The police have the job of dealing with fights or semi-conscious people lying in the street which is due to the effects of excessive alcohol consumption.

The majority of crime committed in the UK is usually drug-related. Burglary, muggings, robberies etc are all ways of funding an addiction and the more serious the addiction the greater the chance of these being accompanied by violence. There are people who are so desperate to have a ‘fix’ or are completely controlled by their addiction that will do anything to service this. If this means using violence then they will do so.

In this case their needs have overtaken any thoughts of rational or civilised behaviour. They are not thinking of anyone else but themselves as they are consumed by their addiction.


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