The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that 25 percent of kids in the United States grow up in households where substance abuse problems are present. As of today, about 1 in every five children grow up in a home where a parent or caregiver abuses drugs or alcohol. The impacts of addiction always extend far past beyond the addict. Children of drug-addicted parents important facts to consider that can make a huge difference in their mental and overall wellbeing.
Addiction is a Family Disease
Most people think drug and alcohol abuse is a very personal experience. While that might be true to an extent, many don’t consider how drug and alcohol abuse affects families. Spouses, children, and parents who witness a family member struggling with addiction also struggle emotionally, legally, medically, and financially.
As a child, being a witness of an addicted parent comes with long-term effects that are undeniable. Children of addicts are more likely to develop substance use disorders when they grow up. They’re also three times more likely to be neglected physically and sexually abused.
It’s common for children to develop feelings of guilt or self-blame for a parent’s substance abuse. They often develop feelings of unworthiness and continually develop dysfunctional attachments in their adulthood. Not to mention, in extreme cases, children can be removed from the dysfunctional home environment, where child abuse is present, and placed in foster care.
How Caregiving Roles Change in Households with Children of Drug-Addicted Parents
In an average family, parents take on the role of the caregiver. In families that involve substance abuse, these roles often reverse with the child assuming the role of caregiver. Many children don’t realize they’ve taken this new responsibility.
They often become “the enabler in the family dynamics. The enabler is usually the spouse, partner, or the oldest child. They’re the ones picking up the slack after the addict. They pay the bills, make sure the house stays clean, are responsible for the children, and so on. The enabler might provide the addict with money for drugs and alcohol to help them if they’re struggling and potentially at risk.
These responsibilities can include cleaning up after an intoxicated parent made a mess. Picking up a part-time job to help cover some of the family’s living expenses. However, they also take on emotional responsibilities, including:
- Canceling activities to stay home with a parent who feels isolated because of drinking.
- Feeling the need to rescue a parent who’s experiencing severe depression or has suicidal thoughts.
- Assuming responsibility for their parent’s substance use disorder.
The Effects Children of Addicted Parents Struggle With
According to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, the emotional and mental stress of having to care for themselves and intoxicated parents can harm a child’s brain development. Besides, children whose parents are under the influence of drugs and alcohol may be embarrassed to bring friends home. As a result, they isolate themselves from social relationships.
Growing up in an addiction-run household also frequently leads to significant emotional damage. In some instances, addicted parents will use their children as scapegoats. Often blaming them for their dependency issues and taking their anger and frustration out on them both verbally and physically.
In some cases, drug and alcohol addiction also leads to sexual abuse, particularly of children. This happens if a parent under the influence invites other addicts to the house for extended periods while the children are at home. Most of the time, these other individuals or, in some tragic cases, the parent abuses the children.
It is not uncommon for children to internalize this abuse. As a result, they frequently believe that they are indeed responsible for their familial turmoil. In addition to this deep-seated self-blame, children are likely to begin harboring severe resentments against their parents.
The confusion between self-hate and anger towards their parental figures will frequently lead to inner-conflict. Thus, leaving children confused, alone, and isolated.
Long-term Effects of Growing Up in Abusive Households
To make matters worse, the National Council of State Legislatures (NCSL) lists parental substance abuse as one of the most common reasons that children run away from home or become homeless. Besides, NCSL reports that 46 percent of underage runaways are the victims of physical abuse, and 38 percent are the victims of emotional abuse.
The repercussions of growing up with addicted parents can have long-term effects on children. The Adverse Child Experiences (ACE) study found that adults that experienced childhood neglect or abuse had a higher risk of developing:
- Alcohol and drug abuse problems.
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
- Heart disease.
- Liver disease.
- Sexually transmitted diseases.
Also, this leads to a higher incidence of the following lifestyle-related events, including:
- Poor job performance.
- Financial stress.
- Poor academic performance.
- Exposure to domestic violence and sexual assault.
Seeing a loved one struggle with drug or alcohol addiction is exceptionally stressful. The trauma of managing everything that happens increases people’s chances of developing depression or anxiety. Others, mostly children, can struggle with post-traumatic stress disorders or other trauma-related conditions.
Not to mention, when the addict physically and emotionally abuses their family member, the trauma left behind is immeasurable. In many cases, family members struggle with mental illness that could be triggered by the addiction.
Finding Help for Yourself
Growing up in a household with addicted parents is one of the most damaging and unfortunate experiences, a young child or adolescent can potentially undergo. Children who grow up with one or multiple addicted guardians take on the role of the caretaker themselves, adopt parental responsibilities, and look after themselves as well as their siblings. Safe home environments should be complete with a certain level of predictability and consistency.
Children and young adults will likely have fewer rules, leaving them to fend for themselves most of the time. Additionally, growing up in a home without guidelines or restrictions can affect the development of a child. These issues can manifest in destructive behavioral patterns later on in life.
It can be challenging to separate your parent’s substance use from your struggles. With all your attention focused on caring for them, it’s easy to neglect yourself. You must take the time to help yourself both mentally and physically, mostly if you’ve fallen for the same addictive behaviors. Some alternatives to find help include:
- Talking to someone you trust about your parent’s substance abuse.
- Joining a support group like Adult Children of Alcoholics or Al-non.
- Seeking addiction treatment to manage your personal struggles.
- Speaking with a counselor, therapist, or psychiatrist.
- Participating in wellness activities.
- Focusing on continuing education to advance a career.
- Learning and practicing new stress management techniques.
It can be challenging to move away from these traumatic experiences. With the support and guidance of a counselor, attending 12-step fellowship meetings, and finding an encouraging support system, you can break the cycle of addiction.
Convincing Addict Parents to Seek Help
While challenging, convincing an addicted parent to seek treatment can be quite liberating. Children must understand this isn’t their responsibility, and whether or not their parents choose to seek treatment, the pressure should not fall on their shoulders. Remember, many parents are not aware of the impact their substance use disorder has on their children.
If you’re ready to talk to your parents about their addiction and how to get help, make sure you keep these tips in mind.
Get Help First
Please don’t attempt to talk to your parents about addiction without discussing it with a professional first. There are a lot of professionals who can help you stage a successful intervention. A counselor, school nurse, coach, priest, or rabbi, can all help set up an intervention to discuss getting help for addiction.
Set Clear Expectations
Beyond seeking professional intervention assistance, you need to come up with your expectations. Do you want them to commit to rehab? Are you trying to get them to a group meeting? These goals will set the tone of the intervention and help you realize if the meeting was successful or not.
Involve the Family
Other relatives might also be concerned about your parent’s substance abuse. Siblings, aunts, or uncles, grandparents might even be able to help. They can allow you to state your case, explain the various ways their substance use disorder affected you growing up, and more.
Make a Plan
One of the most critical factors when staging an intervention is to plan them when you know they’ll be sober. When you approach a parent about drinking or drug use, it’s best to talk to them when they are clear headed and sober. Talking to someone high, drunk, or hungover probably will not be productive.
Interventions can be quite emotional, and a whirlwind of opinions and troubles are likely to surface. Do your best to stay calm and avoid any outbursts of emotions. Doing this will help you express your feelings more clearly and be more persuasive. Not to mention, your parents are likely going to be more open about your point of view.
Hold them Accountable
Addiction is a powerful disease, and even when people try their best, seeking help, the first time can be an uphill battle. Make sure to have support from someone else to follow up with your parents regularly. You need to make sure your parents go through their promises and that they seek the treatment they need. Some treatment centers incorporate the family throughout the recovery process, so a therapist can help you keep track of their progress.
Make it Possible
Your parents will likely argue that they cannot afford addiction treatment. Many health insurance plans will cover treatment for addiction and mental health disorders. While plans vary in terms of the type of coverage they provide, with the Affordable Care Act, more Americans now have access to these forms of treatment. Call your addiction treatment center and verify insurance coverage to make addiction treatment a possibility to their eyes.
Addiction Treatment in the Family
Addiction is a complex and challenging process to treat when it affects the whole family. To treat addiction in the family, our specialists recommend a comprehensive approach that helps rebuild trust, treat underlying conditions, assess the relationship damage, and more.
The first step is that whoever is struggling with addiction chooses to go to drug and alcohol rehab. Their recovery journey will most likely start with a drug and alcohol detox program to ensure they detoxify in a safe, secure, and comfortable environment. After completion, they’ll move into an inpatient rehab or an intensive outpatient program to continue their recovery process.
Most of the time, when users struggle with multiple drugs and alcohol, as well as with underlying mental health disorders, they’ll need a dual diagnosis program. These types of programs help address both issues simultaneously, which guarantee a better long-term recovery.
Through individual and group therapy, recovering addicts start to regain trust in themselves. As addicts begin to learn coping mechanisms, and they advance through their recovery journey, rebuilding trust with their family members will become easier. Not to mention, it will become an essential step in their recovery.
With addiction to family members, rebuilding trust doesn’t happen overnight. Most addicts need assistance in figuring out how to talk to their family members. We believe in integrating family therapy sessions to help rebuild the trust, rebuild connections, and regain the family unit. Through family therapy, we can slowly work on family dynamics, support the recovering addict, make amends, and continue to work together as a family.
Unfortunately, addiction isn’t a trip to rehab, and you’re done. It’s a long-life journey. Because of the nature of the addiction disease, relapse is bound to happen unless you have the right support system by your side. Joining aftercare treatment programs that include 12-step group meetings, life skills development programs, and more will help addicts work towards long-term sobriety.
If your family is struggling with addiction, don’t let it fall for all the effects of drug and alcohol abuse. We know this is a trying time, but we also know there’s hope, and we can help. Seek substance abuse treatment today.
At Lighthouse Recovery Institute, our comprehensive addiction recovery programs are designed with family in mind. Contact us today to learn more about our treatment center and start walking the path towards recovery as a family.