Growing Up with a Parent with Addiction

Growing up with a parent with addiction

Dealing with substance use disorder is hard enough when it’s just you, and it can be heart-wrenching when it’s someone you love. Growing up with parents addicted to drugs can be an even heavier burden because kids lack many coping strategies adults can use to deal with the stress and worry of a loved one’s substance abuse. Nearly 9 million children in the United States, or 1 in 8, live in a home with at least one parent with a substance use disorder.

What Is Substance Use Disorder?

When a person uses alcohol and/or drugs so much that it interferes with everyday living, they may have a substance use disorder. Alcohol and drug abuse may lead to serious health problems, loss of employment and housing, alienation of family and friends, legal trouble or a host of other negative outcomes. When a person using drugs or alcohol doesn’t stop or continues to use more even with the growing consequences, it’s common to be diagnosed with a disorder called alcoholism or drug addiction, depending on the details of their use pattern.

People with substance use disorder frequently deny having a problem. They may point to times in the past when they were able to stop drinking or using drugs for an extended period as proof they can stop anytime they want to. They may become defensive about criticism of their use or be dishonest about how much or how frequently they use. If criticism or inquiry into their addiction continues, they may become hostile or break off a relationship instead of seeking help. This causes serious damage to families, and it’s even harder to repair the breach when parents with addiction are resistant to treatment.

How Addiction Affects Parents

Parents addicted to drugs face struggles beyond the usual difficulties of living with addiction. Parents’ drug addiction interferes with their ability to do the job on every level. Even before a child is born, exposure to drugs in the womb causes medical and psychological issues that may be permanent and irreversible, such as fetal alcohol syndrome, which affects 1 in 1,000 children in the United States.

Babies and preschool aged children need nearly constant attention, and parents need to help them, from feeding and changing to learning to read. When one parent is abusing substances, the burden frequently shifts to the other parent and may be too much to manage alone. When both drug addicted parents have issues managing their children’s environment, things in the home can rapidly turn unsafe and set a child up for a lifetime of trauma and neglect.

Older kids are less dependent on their parents for everything, but they are old enough to know something is wrong. While tweens and early adolescents may not understand the whole picture, it is difficult for addicted parents to hide their drug and alcohol abuse or the mounting consequences of it.

Even the adult children of parents with addiction disorders suffer from it. Kids who are 18 years or older often feel they have to take care of their parents, or they may reproduce the cycle of addiction themselves and repeat the problems they grew up with within their homes. It can be awkward and difficult for a parent of an addict to offer advice or intervene in their children’s lives while struggling with their untreated addiction.

The Effect of Addicted Parents on Children

Drug addicted parents introduce a wide variety of social, safety and mental health issues into their children’s homes because of their disorder and its consequences. Children growing up with a parent who abuses alcohol and drugs may cope with the issue by denying there’s a problem and withdrawing into their room or a friend’s house. They may develop behavior issues at school, start shoplifting, lie to adults or even hurt themselves to deal with the psychological strain of a situation that’s out of their control and understanding. Frequent issues that plague homes with parents addicted to drugs include the following:

Lack of Stability

Addiction is characterized by instability, which is the opposite of what children need in their homes. A parent who loses the ability to function most of the day due to intoxication, or disappears to acquire drugs or to get the money for drugs, creates an unstable home situation. A child at home might find out their drug addicted parents have been rushed to the hospital or arrested. Less dramatically, they may never be able to count on regular meals or the one-on-one interactions that all children need.

Loss of Innocence

Kids with drug addicted parents grow up fast, which is not a good thing. While a healthy maturity is good to see developing in kids’ personalities, six-year-old children who know how to make their meals or how to make excuses when the police come to the door are not following a healthy development path. Even older kids are still kids, and teens with addicted parents are up to 69% more likely to develop depression or other mood disorders as adults than kids with non-addicted parents.

Long-Term Effects of Parents Addicted to Drugs on Children

The long-term effects of parental addiction go beyond depression and anxiety among young adults. It has long been observed that the grownup children of substance abusers frequently develop addictions and have a difficult time maintaining stable adult relationships. The financial difficulties of having an unstable childhood can cause a lifetime of disability, as children of addicts are less likely to attend college or enjoy many other opportunities typical of other kids.

How to Deal With the Trauma of Parental Addiction and How Parents Can Limit the Damage

There isn’t a DIY fix for a parent’s drug addiction. In-person counseling and peer support groups are approaches that help with the recovery efforts of parents with addiction disorders and the related issues their kids are dealing with. Recognizing there’s a problem and asking for help is the first step to recovery for both parents addicted to drugs and their children.

Help Is Available for Both Parents and Kids

You don’t have to face the challenges of sobriety on your own. The empathetic care teams at Restore have the experience to help parents struggling with addiction and kids struggling with parents addicted to drugs and alcohol. Contact us today for a free consultation about how Restore can help you on the road to recovery.