Watching a loved one struggle with addiction is often painful. The situation is even more traumatic when the loved one is your parent.
In an ideal world, all children would be raised by caring, responsible parents who do their best to provide for the family. Unfortunately, in some instances, this just doesn’t happen. Some parents become addicted to drugs and alcohol, leading to a host of problems for their families.
Children from families with addicted parents are exposed to drugs, alcohol, and other substances at an early age and this often has adverse effects on their development. Such children faced an increased risk of sexual, physical, or verbal abuse and have a higher incidence of depression and anxiety than other children. They also tend to suffer from low self-esteem, have poor social skills, and tend to perform poorly academically. Since they are exposed to addictive substances at an early age, they are more likely to start experimenting with drugs or alcohol earlier than their peers. This in turn could lead to higher incidences of aggressive and irresponsible behavior.
Families with addicted parents are often highly dysfunctional with the children being forced to take on roles that they are not meant to. Thanks to their parents’ substance abuse, these children have to grow up quickly and assume a level of maturity they are not ready for. For instance, they could end up cleaning up after their parents, keeping them company instead of hanging out with their friends or even rescuing and reassuring their parents if they fall into depression. Sometimes, these children also end up using drugs or drinking with their parents in an effort to bond and form a relationship with them.
Parents who spend their waking hours getting drunk or high normally have no time to take care of themselves, let alone their children. In such scenarios, the children not only become the parent’s caregiver but they’re also forced to fend for themselves. This exposes them to more problems like malnutrition, crime and isolation from their age mates.
The emotional and mental stress of having to care for both themselves and their intoxicated parents can harm a child’s mental and emotional development. The child may come to believe that they are somehow responsible for their parent’s addiction and behavior. They end up feeling guilty and ashamed and often try to change their behavior to be more in line with what they feel their parents would want. They may try to perform better in school, become more obedient and helpful around the house, etc. in a futile effort to earn their parent’s love.
Dealing with an Addicted Parent
The biggest challenge for the child of an addicted parent is to step out of the caregiver role and develop a personal identity independent of their parent’s addiction. This isn’t easy because parents who battle addiction are often abusive and manipulative and they normally discourage their children from sharing what goes on at home with other grownups. Furthermore, the child might be too ashamed of their parent’s behavior to seek help.
If you are the child of an addicted parent, the best thing you can do is build up your confidence and self-esteem. Realize that you are not responsible for your parent’s choices and you can’t control their behavior.
Here are some tips to help you cope with your parent’s addiction:
Find someone to confide in.
Opening up to someone might be difficult and scary but it can ease the burden of living with an addicted parent. Finding a trusted adult or friend you can confide in can validate your feelings and make you feel listened to.
Find healthy ways to express yourself.
Sometimes the pressure of dealing with a parent who has issues with addiction can be too much. You need to find a healthy outlet for all those feelings instead of bottling them up. Some good ideas include keeping a journal, taking up music, painting, sports or any other healthy hobbies that help you blow off steam.
Nurture your social life.
When faced with an abusive, addictive parent, it can be tempting to withdraw from the world. However, isolating yourself will only lead to more problems like depression and low self-esteem. One great way of coping with all the scary stuff happening at home is by maintaining an active social life. Make close and reliable friends who you can confide in and count on for help.
Keep a list of emergency contacts and safe places to go.
Compile a list of people you can turn to in case you run into trouble at home and keep their numbers where you can easily access them when necessary. This could be numbers of close relatives or friends, concerned teachers or neighbors, etc. who you could reach out to in a crisis.
It’s also a good idea to make a list of safe places you can go if things get out of hand at home. This might be a friend’s, neighbor’s or relative’s home or a teen or family center.
Convincing an Addicted Parent to Seek Help
Talking to your addicted parent about getting help can be difficult and intimidating. Your parent might feel that you have betrayed the family or that you’re undermining their authority.
If this is something you’re determined to do, asking for help from someone experienced in interventions can take some of the stress from the conversation. The Robert Alexander Addiction Treatment Center in Kentucky has counselors and therapists who are trained in dealing with such situations. Additionally, we have a range of addiction treatment programs to cater to different addictions and individual situations, so your parent is sure to find one that suits them.
Your parent’s addiction is not your fault. It is a disease like any other and with the right help and approach, your parent can beat their addiction. For more information on how we can give your parent the help they need to turn their life around, give us a call on (502) 513-6242.