Living with Addicted Parents
Children’s beliefs and behaviors are founded on the behaviors they see from the adults around them. Parents lead by example. They affect the choices children make later in life. Parents share their knowledge and skills with their children. They connect with children by showing empathy. Therefore, children who grow up in a positive environment are often more emotionally and socially stable.
When this kind of nurturing environment is absent, children grow up neglected. Children might acquire the same types of behavior, and the cycle of having an indifferent and uncaring environment might lead them to create a dysfunctional family of their own.
This type of family might be present in a household where a parent is suffering from alcoholism or substance abuse. Alcoholism and drug addiction affect every family member.
Researchers in the 1998 study “Familial Transmission of Substance Use Disorders” concluded that a family history of alcohol and drug dependence increases the risk of succeeding generations developing a substance use disorder.
The researchers found that children or relatives of people who misuse opioids, cocaine, cannabis, and alcohol are eight times more likely to develop an addiction to a substance.
In 1995-97, psychologists conducted a large-scale investigation on the effects of neglect and child abuse on children’s well-being. The psychologists considered alcohol or other substance abuse as an adverse childhood experience, or an ACE. They divided ACEs into three groups, including abuse, neglect, and family or household challenges. They further divided abuse into three categories:
- Emotional abuse – Emotional abuse includes verbal abuse, threats, and intimidation by an adult against a child. The adult could be a parent, step-parent, or an adult living in the home with the child.
- Physical abuse – Physical abuse is any act that hurts a child physically, such as hitting, grabbing, or slapping.
- Sexual abuse – Sexual abuse happens when an adult, relative, family friend, or even a stranger who is at least five years older than the child harasses or harms the child in a sexual way.
The researchers listed substance abuse under the category of household challenges. The investigators determined that 27 percent of their respondents lived in households with a family member who needs alcohol or drug abuse help. Other household challenges are:
- Domestic violence against mothers – When a child’s mother or stepmother is physically hurt by the father, stepfather, or mother’s partner.
- Mental illness – When a household member is mentally ill.
- Divorce or parental separation – When parents separate or divorce.
- Criminal household member – When a family member was imprisoned.
Drug addiction can increase the likelihood of domestic violence and separation among couples. Sometimes, the relationship problems can cause people to obtain a divorce after rehab, which might cause further stress to the family.
Neglect can also accompany substance abuse. Children might experience emotional and/or physical neglect:
Emotional neglect – This might happen when a child loses a source of strength and support from someone in the family.
Physical neglect – If guardians or parents are drunk or high, they might be unable to take care of children, or they might be physically absent.
Kids Living with Addicts: What the Statistics Say
A quarter of U.S. children could be growing up in families where a relative suffers from alcohol dependence or abuse, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). In 2017, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported about 8.7 million children in the United States aged seventeen or younger lived with at least one parent who had substance abuse disorder.
Alcohol is the most common addictive substance in the United States, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD). Approximately 17.6 million people suffer from alcohol abuse. That figure translates to one in twelve adults needing help.
In 2017, government data also reported that around 7.5 million children have at least one parent who is dependent on alcohol. Alcoholism is the third leading lifestyle-related cause of death, reported the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, with 88,000 deaths recorded annually. People being treated from alcohol-related health conditions also take up to 40 percent of hospital beds in the U.S., excluding those that are used by intensive care and maternity patients.
Living with an adult who is suffering from alcohol or other substance abuse increases the chance of children using alcohol and drugs. Eight percent of the population who are twelve years old or older have used illegal drugs in the past 30 days, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD). The figure translates to an estimated 20 million Americans who are using marijuana, cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, or prescription drugs without a doctor’s prescription.
Annually, many teens seek help at facilities to seek drug abuse help or treatment. Drug abuse is very costly personally and financially. Its total price tag exceeds $740 billion each year due to costs related to health care, losses in work productivity, and crime.
Signs that You Are Living with Addicted Parents
Parents who have substance use disorders use alcohol and or drugs regularly. They fail to meet their obligations at work and home. They neglect their health and spend a great deal of time recovering from the effects of substance abuse.
Substance abuse among parents often occurs in households that are facing problems such as poverty, domestic abuse, or mental illness. This means that recovering from substance abuse often requires additional treatment. Such assistance can help provide a healthier environment for children.
Here are common signs of addiction that you might see in parents who are suffering from substance abuse disorder:
Repetitive speech patterns
Frequent sniffing that is not related to colds or allergies
Changes in appetite
Unusual body odor and poor personal hygiene
Absences from work and other important engagements
Irritability and impulsiveness
Difficulty managing emotions
Reduced capacity to respond to child’s needs
Choosing alcohol and drugs over food or other basic needs
Estrangement from family
The Effects on Children Living with Addicted Parents
If parents struggle with substance abuse disorders, they could place their children at risk of emotional and physical neglect and maltreatment as well as emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. Parents who are dependent on drugs or alcohol are three times more likely to abuse their children, and more likely to neglect their children, compared with those who do not struggle with substance abuse disorders.
Experts also say that a substantial number of child maltreatment cases involve alcohol or drug abuse. Abuse, maltreatment, and neglect can create anxiety or depression.
Moreover, drug or alcohol dependent parents may have their children placed in foster care. Children might be transferred from one foster home to another, or from caregiver to caregiver, affecting their sense of stability and security.
To promote a healthy childhood, children should grow up in a safe and caring environment. But, if they experience abuse, neglect, or maltreatment, they might develop various problems, including:
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
Sexually transmitted diseases
Poor performance in school
Support Groups for Children Living with Addicted Parents
Despite their young age, children of parents who are addicted to drugs or alcohol might find themselves completing household duties that their parent or parents are incapable of fulfilling because of their drug or alcohol abuse. These duties might include taking care of younger siblings or doing more household chores than usual.
These shifts in the family’s once-normal routines can take a toll on the emotional and mental health of children, hampering their development. This is why seeking help and support from relatives or community members can be important means of intervention.
Support groups for children who have addicted parents include:
Al-Anon Family Groups, including Alateen – Al-Anon groups provide help to family members and friends of alcoholics so they can cope with the common problems that loved ones of alcoholics often face. Members share their own experiences as a form of release and build bonds with a new community.
Nar-Anon Family Groups – Nar-Anon also provides support for those who are coping with a loved one’s addiction to drugs or alcohol. Like Al-Anon, it is based on the 12-step program and respects members’ anonymity.
Families Anonymous – Like Nar-Anon, Families Anonymous is also a 12-step program for families and friends of people with drug addictions. It was formed by a group of concerned parents in California who wanted to help people with their children’s substance addiction.
SMART Recovery Family & Friends – Affiliated with the SMART Recovery organization, SMART Recovery Family & Friends welcomes family and friends who are facing substance and alcohol abuse through a science-based method. The group offers online support group meetings and face-to-face meetings in cities across the United States and Canada.
Learn to Cope – Learn to Cope is a nonprofit support network for families affected by drug addiction. It has over 10,000 members and has a recognized peer support and prevention program.
Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing (GRASP) – Provides support for those who lost their loved ones due to substance abuse or addiction. These organizations offer an organized support network to provide the surviving friends and families with support and comfort.
How to Convince Addicted Parents to Seek Treatment
Convincing a parent to seek alcohol or drug abuse help is a very difficult task, but once the individual agrees to seek treatment, it is the first step in a family’s recovery. If you are someone whose parent is struggling with a substance abuse disorder, here are some tips that might help you urge your parent to find help:
Learn about the effects of drugs and alcohol. Knowing about the effects of drugs and excessive alcohol on the body can help you understand the changes happening to your addicted parents.
Find support. Consider talking with another family member for help. You might also want to talk with a teacher or guidance counselor. The most important thing is to communicate with people who can help you and your family.
Talk to your parent when they are sober. It can be difficult and risky to communicate with intoxicated people, even parents. Elder children might want to reach out to a sober parent and have a sincere talk about how the situation has affected the family. It can be emotional and difficult, but being open to one another is a way to strengthen the family’s bond and work on what needs to be fixed.
Get help from experts. Substance abuse disorder is not easy to address. Chances are, even after a heart-to-heart discussion, a parent could be consuming drugs or alcohol again. It is important that you know where to find professional help to ensure that the addicted parent will be able to commit himself or herself to rehab and recovery.
There are various facilities and treatment centers that can provide you and your family with the confidentiality and support you need while receiving alcohol abuse treatment or drug addiction treatment. It might be a residential center or an intensive outpatient treatment program. There are also drug rehab centers that offer evidence-based therapies with a holistic approach.
If parents are alcohol or drug dependent, their children might suffer. Parents and children could benefit from counseling, therapy, and other tools to treat substance abuse and strengthen their family.