Addiction is known as a family illness because every member of the family is affected when one person has an addiction. Parents suffer when their child has an addiction while siblings may find that their lives are turned upside down when a sister or brother is affected. Spouses also struggle to cope with an addicted partner, but the real victims are often the children of an addicted individual.
Children suffer when their parent is addicted to alcohol or drugs. They may be deemed too young to understand, but they often hear the whispered comments and see the knowing looks from others. Older children also have to deal with the silence of friends who are trying to look the other way, and this too can be painful.
The Effect of Parental Addiction on the Child
Children of addicted parents often suffer emotional difficulties. They may feel confused, afraid and lonely. Others are ashamed and embarrassed while some blame themselves or feel guilty for being embarrassed. Juggling these emotions can lead to mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, and some children experience physical problems such as upset stomach and aches and pains.
Many children go on to develop addictions themselves when they are older, and some will even contemplate suicide. Others will have a hard time forming relationships with others as they are profoundly affected by their life growing up with an addicted parent.
The extent of a parent’s addiction on a child will be influenced by a number of factors, including:
- Whether it was one or both parents who suffered from
- How severe the addicted parent’s symptoms were.
- Whether there was another care provider in the home.
- How old the child was when the addiction developed.
- The position of the child in the home – i.e. first born, middle child or youngest.
- Whether the family unit was strong and cohesive.
- Whether the addiction derailed the family unit.
- The response of the non-addicted parent to the problem.
- The amount of understanding the child had regarding the addiction.
- Whether emotions and feelings were discussed in the family.
- Whether the child was encouraged to be independent.
- Whether there was also a problem with physical or sexual abuse.
- The financial situation in the home.
- The education level of the parents.
Explaining Addiction to Children
Many adults fail to speak to children about a parent’s addiction and wrongly assume that they do not need to know. Nevertheless, it is crucial for children to be made aware of the illness so that they can learn how to deal with it and can have some understanding as to why their parent is acting in this manner.
Because children often have a simplistic view of life and may find it hard to understand why their parent would continue to drink alcohol or take drugs knowing that it causes so many problems, it is important that you try to explain that their parent is ill and has no control over his or her actions.
Children need to be made aware that they have not done anything wrong and that it is not their fault that their parent is acting in this way. That way, the child or children will not blame themselves for the actions of their addicted parent.
Is Your Child at Risk of Addiction?
You probably think that because your child has seen addiction up close and personal, that he or she will want to steer clear of drugs and alcohol at all costs. Nevertheless, the opposite is usually more likely to happen. In fact, children of addicts are much more liable to develop addiction than children who have been brought up by non-addicted parents.
While it is true that all children are at risk of addiction, your kids will have a higher than average risk. In the teenage years, there is an even greater risk as drugs and alcohol become more accessible and pressure from peers to drink or take drugs increases.
Children who have grown up in a home with addiction have been exposed to alcohol or drugs from an early age, which can mean they are comfortable with the idea of drinking or taking drugs.
Can You Addiction-Proof Your Child?
There is nothing you can do to guarantee that your child will not develop an addiction, but there are steps you can take to protect him or her and reduce the chances of it becoming a reality. Below are a few suggestions on how to addiction-proof your child.
- Make sure your home becomes a drug-free zone by getting rid of all mood-altering drugs and alcohol. This includes getting rid of all unnecessary prescription drugs as many children begin stealing these pills from their home before moving on to other drugs or alcohol. If someone in the house needs to take prescription medication, make sure these are kept well out of reach or locked away.
- Make sure you reinforce the idea that drugs and alcohol are harmful and that they are not acceptable in your home. Make sure your children are aware of your attitude to these substances and make a point of showing them how you are having much more fun now that you are sober.
- Make sure your children know that common ailments do not need to be cured with pills of any kind. Too many people have the attitude that there are pills to cure every ache or pain and reach for pills the minute they have a minor headache. Show your children how to manage pain in different ways and get them into the habit of only ever taking pills as a last resort.
Be honest with your children about your illness and, if necessary, consider family therapy to help your children cope with your addiction. Call us here at Addiction Helper for advice and support on how to help your children deal with your illness so that your family can begin the healing process together.