How to Handle Being Children of Addicts

There’s not much that can prepare a person to find out that someone who he or she loves is suffering from addiction. What’s even worse is finding out that a parent is addicted to drugs. This is because, as a person grows up, he or she is looking to parents for guidance, love, and affirmation. Thus, when addiction gets in the way of that, things get messy for the children of addicts.

The way that people are raised has a huge impact on their mental, emotional, and social development. This is because we as humans are partly products of our environments. Therefore, parental/authority behaviors have an impact on people’s development. Such development includes how people respond to drug and alcohol use.

Some of these people abuse substances to cope with life. Others might abuse substances because it’s what they’ve been shown to do. Regardless, there are resources available to help those who need them.

How Many Kids Grow Up in Addicted Households?

Studies have shown that 25% of children in the United States grow up in addicted households. This means that 1 in every 4 kids grow up around a parent or guardian with a substance use disorder. For these individuals, the chances of developing substance addictions in themselves are twice as likely as those who don’t grow up in households where there is substance abuse.

Children of addicts who grow up in homes where there is substance abuse might also exhibit the following:

  • Poor academic performance
  • Emotional instability
  • Behavioral issues
  • Lack of confidence
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Experiencing abuse
  • Experimenting with illicit substances
  • Underage drinking

It’s disheartening that an addicted parent can have an immensely powerful impact on a kid. It’s also possible though that a child with an addicted parent can have a major impact on the parent. Thus, with the right resources and services at their disposal, children of addicts may be able to help turn things around. Not only that, but even learning more about how to support a parent can have a massive impact on a person’s journey to recovery.

How Do I Help an Addicted Parent?

When it comes to caregiving, the role typically falls to the parent or guardian. For young people who are still in the process of development, it is imperative to receive provision, emotional support, and security. When it comes to addiction, however, the roles can easily reverse. If a parent is struggling with a substance use disorder, a child could go from receiving care to giving care. What’s worse is that for some, it’s just another part of their lives. If they don’t realize that it’s not the way those roles should work.

Some ways that children of addicts can take care of their parents include the following:

  • Cleaning up a parent’s mess after a spell of drinking
  • Helping an intoxicated parent to bed
  • Tending to a hungover parent
  • Getting a job to cover the cost of rent due to so much money being spent on alcohol

No matter what way you slice it, it’s never okay for children of addicts to have to take care of their parents. They have to shoulder responsibilities that they’re not prepared for, and it’s unfair. Another way these situations get unfairly complicated is the emotional factor. Children of addicts can be so emotionally wrapped up in their parents that they suffer from a severe emotional entanglement.

What Does an Unhealthy Emotional Entanglement Look Like?

When a parent suffers from addiction, their child may experience the following emotional entanglements:

  • Canceling plans with friends to care for an addicted parent
  • A parent inappropriately recalling events from sexual encounters they’ve had
  • Developing a savior complex to rescue their parent from panic attacks or suicidal ideation
  • Sleeping next to a parent to comfort them
  • Participating in substance abuse with a parent
  • Abusing substances to cope with a parent abusing substances
  • Feeling like they’re the reason for their parents abusing substances

As previously mentioned, in scenarios where an unhealthy emotional entanglement exists, a child assumes responsibilities that they’re not prepared for. What children need is to develop healthily, without unjust and inappropriate interruption. Addicted parents who depend on their children to take care of them are breaking emotional guard rails that need to exist, as emotional guard rails allow children to develop as individuals. The potential danger is that a child’s identity could become wrapped up in something they never chose.

Having to take care of yourself and being responsible for your own actions as a kid is one thing, but feeling like you’re responsible for an adult’s well-being and actions as a child of an addict is unjust and a danger to a child’s necessary brain development. When a parent is virtually non-existent as a source of provision, children are put at great risk. These risks could include legal trouble, physical harm, financial hardship, malnutrition, or feeling alone.

The Impact of Addiction on the Social Life of a Child

Addicted adults who come or stay home drunk put their children in unusual and uncomfortable positions. For example, when a kid comes home to a drunk parent, that kid might become too embarrassed to bring his or her friends home in the future. This can cause a kid to develop unhealthy social behaviors due to not developing and spending time alongside other kids. Social life and quality time with peers are crucial for childhood development.

Ironically, kids will often blame themselves for social situations that they’re put in that are ultimately their addicted parents’ fault. Not knowing how to navigate friendships or pick up on certain social cues is frustrating.

This frustration is heightened when so much more is expected of people who do this. Taking care of an addicted parent is somewhat of a perfect storm. The weight of the world falls onto the shoulders of children of addicts so much so that they can’t even be children.

Why is it Hard to Ask for Help for an Addicted Parent?

As difficult as it is to ask for help, it’s even more difficult to do so on someone else’s behalf; this is especially true if the person is someone you care for who fell off the deep end. That being said, finding help for addiction for both oneself and a parent is immensely difficult, and yet another burden to bear.

Sometimes the discouragement can come in the form of self-doubt; sometimes it can come as a result of a parent being manipulative. This makes asking for help from other adults difficult.

When it comes to helping an addicted parent, it’s a dangerous road to walk. Sometimes an adult struggling with a substance use disorder will express anger in the form of physical or emotional abuse. This could come as a result of children trying to help.

Parents may find it threatening that a child would even dare bring up their problems to another person. Sometimes it’s even deeper than that. A parent struggling with a substance use disorder, among other things, may lose custody of his or her child and be deemed unfit.

In addition to all of this, a child’s self-worth is negatively impacted when the home is riddled with substance use disorders. This can cause a kid to be too afraid to seek help, thus resulting in them putting themselves down for something that they can’t control. Fear and anxiety are massively debilitating when it comes to not only seeking help, but evaluating the worth of oneself.

The Dangers of Not Seeking Help

One may think that all of their issues will stop once they become adults, but this is wrong. When a child grows up and bings taking care of an addicted parent, there are major implications to that parents’ mental and emotional health. Though they may grow to become adults, it does not change the fact that these kids experienced childhood neglect. Not only will they experience mental and emotional hardship, but physical as well. Those who grow up in addictive households are more at risk of experiencing heart issues than those who don’t.

The physical, mental, and emotional impact of drug addiction don’t just stop at heart issues, however. There are a plethora of potential troubles one may experience as a result of not receiving help for themselves while suffering from prescription drug addiction. There have been studies conducted that have pointed out potential risks of children who grow up in addictive households. These risks include the following:

  • Alcohol abuse
  • Drug abuse
  • Heart issues
  • Liver disease
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Sexually transmitted disease (STD)

How do I Convince my Parent to Seek Help for Addiction?

Some ways to help a parent realize they need help for their addiction may include the following:

  • Write a letter to your parent, but don’t give it to them without a safe adult there
  • Find help from someone who has expertise in interventions
  • Stage an intervention with a trained professional and other family or loved ones
  • Come up with a time when you know the parent won’t be intoxicated
  • In a calm manner, read your letter to your parent
  • Communicate your feelings concisely
  • Make sure there is a clear direction to go after the intervention (treatment, counseling, etc.)

It can be scary to seek out help for a parent’s addiction. Doubts flood the mind and your mind wonders if this is the best course of action to take. Well, rest assured, it likely is the best course of action to take. It is the best course of action to take. Addiction is messy. It isn’t supposed to be easy work. Oftentimes in life, the hardest things to do are the most rewarding, and the fact remains that your parent needs help; they won’t get it without you being honest first.

Don’t Lose Heart; There’s Help Available

For those that have a parent dealing with a substance use disorder, it may be difficult to find help. Regardless of how difficult it may seem, there are resources available to help. At Owl’s Nest, it’s our duty to assess individual needs and offer you the utmost in individualized care. If you would like to find out more, or you want to find out more about admissions, you can contact us here.

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