Addicted people can have the idea that they are only harming themselves with their actions, but in most cases, this idea couldn’t be farther from the truth. The consequences of substance abuse and addiction tend to impact many people in a person’s life, including a partner, co-workers, family members, and other people that rely on the person in some way.
One of the groups that often suffer the most harm by an addicted person’s actions is their children. Some addicted parents minimize the impact their behaviors cause to their family, but parental substance abuse can and often cause irreversible harm to children that are stuck in this environment.
Signs That Addiction Causes Family Harm
We can see signs of harm in many ways, including the mental health of the children of addicted parents.
Comprehensive psychological treatment programs can provide the support and understanding that a child needs. Furthermore, family therapy provides not just the children, but the spouse, better tools to handle adverse situations, which otherwise can cause substantial damage and even physical risks. This type of therapy can also provide productive ways for the family to show the addicted person the impact these behaviors have on them. These new tools allow some families to work on their issues and find a way to move forward together.
Another resource includes groups like Adult Children of Alcoholics, among others. These groups consist of adults whose lives were significantly impacted by the alcoholism of one or more parents when they were children. It sometimes provides the group support and understanding a person needs and cannot receive at home.
If your family has been impacted by substance use, remember there are options available that could help.
How Does Addiction Impact Children?
Addiction can create great harm in the entire foundation and environment a child grows up in. The child’s early life suffers a direct impact of the addictive behaviors from a parent. Also, the child learns to adapt to this unhealthy environment, which can create harmful coping mechanisms and dysfunctional behaviors. Twenty-five percent of U.S. children are estimated to come in contact with family substance abuse, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. So, this is a prevalent problem that is impacting a significant number of children.
You simply need to look at the signs and symptoms of addiction to see how it could impact a child growing up in that environment. For example, addiction is characterized by putting your focus on substance use and getting more of the substance while sacrificing activities and even relationships. These take second place to the substance use. People with an addiction often have financial troubles because they put money into obtaining more of the substance as a priority over other things, including the needs of the family. These are just a few ways the addiction could impact the children. Also, the use and abuse can create various problems that could impact the child, such as:
- the addicted parents acting in aggressive, erratic or risky ways when drunk or high
- a codependent or otherwise dysfunctional relationship with the child’s other parent
- a home life that is potentially filled with uncertainty, insecurity, anxiety and even danger
- exposing the child to addicted people and environments that may be harmful to the child
- a reversed dynamic of the child caring for the parent rather than the other way around
- the lack of a role model and parenting, which can make the child feel lost and unguided
Nonetheless, we also have research available that shows us the direct results of addicted parents on children. According to a review in Current Drug Abuse Reviews, these children have a higher risk of:
- not doing as well at school
- following in the parent’s footsteps with starting to use substances earlier and having higher rates of substance use disorders
- having behavioral, emotional and social problems
- facing parenting problems, including maltreatment, deficits in parenting style and insecure attachments
Also, an article in Psychology Today compiles different research on the impact of substance abuse on children. It notes the following study:
- Michigan State University research that found a father’s state of psychological well-being had a significant effect on the child’s well-being
- Harvard Medical School research that found children with parents who abuse alcohol or are involved with illicit drugs have an increased chance of having medical problems as well as behavioral problems
- A study in Pediatrics found that children of addicted parents are three times more likely to face abuse (emotional, physical or sexual) and four times more likely to face neglect than peers with parents who don’t have addictions
The Paradox of Successful Yet Addicted Parents
Any household with parent addiction can impact children, yet it’s essential to realize that there are many families where the problem may be hidden behind the mask of parents that seem successful. This problem can exist in affluent and educated families where one or both parents hold stable, high-status positions and are respected in the community. People may be surprised to learn that children in this type of family could face addicted parents, but it can and does happen.
An example is the case of high-functioning alcoholism, which involves someone who has the signs and symptoms to be diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder yet who is otherwise functioning okay by holding a job or having financial stability, for example. It is hard for people on the outside to realize that the problem exists. Another example is professionals such as doctors who are in high-stress positions and have access to medications.
In these cases, it can be confusing to the child because their parents seem to be successful, yet they have complicated dynamics in their home environment. This kind of case could be particularly difficult for the child if everyone on the outside respects the parents and assumes the child has a great family life. The child may feel like no one understands and may be confused whether the family dynamic is good or not.
Living with Addiction
Having a parent that is unreliable, inconsistent, and unpredictable often affects the child sense of safety and consistency. These children suffer significant trust issues while also feeling anger and shame. In some cases, children may even blame the sober parent for not protecting them from the constant emotional pain. They often learn to contain or even worse, to deny their own emotions, which generally affects how they view and navigate through the world and the people in it.
Overall, parent addiction can cause significant harm to children. Children are shaped by their parents and impacted by their behaviors, values, and relationship styles. Parents are supposed to be the example. When children of addicted parents learn from an early age that emotions are controlled by substance abuse, they tend to repeat it. Sadly enough, this repetition of negative pattern often leads to the children having anxiety, depression, or even their own issues with substance use.
About the Author: Clare Waisman
Clare Waismann is a certified addiction treatment counselor and the founder of the Waismann Method of Advanced Treatment of Opiate Dependence, a facilitator of medical solutions for those suffering from opioid dependence. Clare has over 20 years of experience working with top treatment professionals and her institute has nearly a 100% success rate in achieving opioid detoxification using a rapid detox method.