Fathers often occupy the role of the first meaningful male relationship that most sons have in their lives. This dynamic has an immense impact on what type of man they will eventually grow up to be. A solid foundation of honesty and understanding is integral in forming a boys personality.
The father/son bond is complicated enough, even under the most advantageous of circumstances, but when substance use is prevalent, it becomes even more strained. Communication breaks down, either due to the deleterious effects of the substance in question or because the family is doing its best to ignore or distract from their father’s condition.
To satisfy the addiction, finances can become strained, putting additional stresses on both the father who isn’t properly providing and the son left further in need. According to experts, individuals living at or near the poverty line spend an estimated 50% of their money fueling their substance use. If this pattern continues unabated, the family could be ostracized from the community, exacerbating the alienation of father and son, and making it more difficult for each of them to establish a support system outside of the family unit.
The father/son dynamic is especially sensitive because fathers traditionally play the role of protector. If dad succumbs to the pressures of addiction, son is left vulnerable and bereft. His entire belief system is upended, and feelings of loss and betrayal often fill that void.
Suddenly alone and disillusioned, a son may turn to other men to replace their dad as a “father figure” – and this pattern could follow him well into adulthood. He might always blame himself for his destructive behavior. Self-doubt yields further emotional issues and the psychological spiral drags downward still.
Another byproduct of a dysfunctional father/son relationship is anger. How am I supposed to raise myself now that you’re essentially absent in our lives? Why did you choose drugs and alcohol over me? How do I reclaim my lost childhood? By perceiving his father as superhuman, he may have imposed unrealistic expectations on him. When he reveals himself to be a mere mortal, it requires a reassessment of their entire dynamic. When the son assumes the role of caretaker, it’s an inversion of tradition. This transition requires understanding and patience from all members of the family.
If these issues remain unresolved for an extended period of years, they can have a toxic effect on a son’s life. Specifically, boys with fathers who drank excessively were more likely to develop every major psychological condition covered in the study, except for dependent personality disorder. Rates of addiction were also higher for sons of substance users, continuing the cycle via both heredity and learned behavior.
Unfortunately, this phenomenon isn’t unique… and it isn’t going away. About one-quarter of all American kids under the age of 18 are currently growing up in a household where drug use or excessive alcohol consumption is present. Opioid addiction is raging across our country at a record pace; within the 12 months, over 11.5 million Americans misused one or more prescription drugs, and the statistics worsen by the year.
This affliction doesn’t discriminate. Despite being the strongest person you’ve ever met, your father is just as susceptible to the lure of addiction as the rest of us. But just as he taught you to rise above the status quo and reject being average, now it’s your turn to convey that same lesson back to him. He needs to hear it now more than ever. Family bonds may bend, but they never truly break. You were his son before his substance use, you are his son now, and you will be his son forever. It just so happens that sons can be as heroic as their dads when push comes to shove… so get ready to push back.