A broken doll, symbol of a broken child

For the children of drug and alcohol addicts life can be very difficult. From basic day to day things that most children take for granted – clean clothes, food on the table, being taken to school, having a parent help them with their homework – these things often don’t happen like they should for the children of those who abuse alcohol are drugs. As an addiction takes hold, life may become erratic as the addict is more interested in their drug of choice than the everyday machinations of everyday life.

Children of those with a drug or alcohol problem also suffer from the emotional rollercoaster that is life with an addict. As the user’s mood changes (mood swings are a common part of addiction) the adult may think they are doing a good job of hiding their addiction, but children are far more perceptive than they may think. Usually they are just kidding themselves that no one notices.

Even if the problem drinker/drug user is managing to continue with the functions of everyday life and seem to “have a lid” on the problem, it doesn’t mean that the abuse isn’t a problem. The children may have the clean clothes and dinner on the table every night but will still be on the receiving end of their parent’s mood swings and may feel like they are permanently tip toeing on eggshells. Abuse and neglect is proven to be a greater risk when a parent has an addiction to drink or drugs. Addiction often changes someone’s personality, and a parent may become moody, secretive, and paranoid and obsessed with their addiction. Children get short shrift from a parent with an addiction.

Children of addicts may suffer from low self-esteem and continually seek approval. They may become withdrawn socially and they may suffer at school. Truancy is more common amongst the children of parents who have substance abuse issues. They may suffer from behavioural or difficulties in relationships, the effects of which may last long into adult life.

There is help and support available for the children of parents with drug and alcohol problems. Counselling can be very helpful, as the child can learn to express themselves without fear of arguments or rejection. Having someone to talk to is very important, as they may feel isolated. They may feel ashamed or as if they have to hide their parent’s addiction and feeling that they are not alone can prove extremely beneficial.

There are support groups for children of addicts, and also programs to provide extra resources if the young person has had to become, in effect, their parents carer. Quite often a child may have to take over household responsibilities, especially if there are younger siblings, if the parent fails to carry out every day duties. A child or young person who has a parent with addiction problems should talk to someone they trust to get some help. This could be another family member or maybe even a teacher. They shouldn’t have to suffer because of their parents problems, and help is available.

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