No matter how old we are, as children, we are greatly influenced by those who raise us. They don’t only include genetics through our biological parents but the habits, mannerisms, values, and behaviors that we see and learn from adults around us as well. This pattern also applies to how we consume alcohol and drugs. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there is an estimated 25% of American children that grow up in homes where substance abuse and the accompanying depression and anxiety symptoms are prevalent. In households where there are two or more adults that abuse drugs and alcohol, kids have two times the likelihood of being addicts themselves.
These kids are more likely to show:
- Behavioral and emotional problems
- Poor academic performance
- Decreased self-esteem
- Increased risk of sexual, verbal, and physical abuse
- Increase risk of having anxiety and depression
- More likelihood of developing addictive behaviors once they use alcohol or drugs
On the contrary, kids can have a tremendous impact on addicted adults especially if they are given access to appropriate resources and support. When kids learn about these support systems and the way to use them to help their parents, for instance, their future can shift positively at the same time help their parents go through the recovery process.
Children Helping Their Addicted Parents
In a typical parent-child relationship, it is the parent’s responsibility to care for his/her child. He provides shelter and financial and emotional support for the growing child. When the parent is addicted, however, the roles become reversed, forcing the child to assume the role of the parent, sometimes not even aware that they have already taken the role. Some obligations that children may do include helping his drunk father clean the living room after drinking and partying with his friends and getting a job to pay for some of the bills or buying groceries.
There are also responsibilities that may hinder the child from allowing him to grow like a normal individual. This include:
- Not going to school activities because he needs to stay home and take care of his father who is feeling insecure and isolated.
- Listening to his mom telling stories about how she was bad when she was high
- Sleeping beside a drunk dad or mom who is currently having anxiety, phobia, or depression
- Going into drugs or alcohol with an older guardian to be able to reach out and bond
In all the scenes mentioned, the child is obliged to step up to a more mature level that is too high for him normally. Addicted parents frequently disregard their children’s emotional boundaries, and this turns the child into a seasoned caregiver with insufficient social skills and no sense of identity. The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids stated that mental and emotional stress afflicts children who have to care for their parents and them as well, harming their brain development in the long term. Additionally, these children will have to find ways to fend for themselves, as their addicted parents are mentally and physically absent. They also don’t like to bring their friends to their home because they are embarrassed that their friends might see their addicted parents. Consequently, their social and personal lives are so restricted that they don’t have strong relationships with friends and significant others. “When individuals experience their world as particularly threatening and unsafe, their risk of emotional distress and mental illness escalates,” says Lyn Yonack, MA, MSW, BCD-P.
Help Outside The Home
Kids of addicted parents or caregivers feel discouraged and hopeless, and they are hesitant to talk about their worries and concerns with other adults. Perhaps it is because they know that their parents get furious or abusive to them if they know that their child is telling someone about them. These addicted parents are also afraid that if their addiction is exposed, they might lose custody of their children.
For those more assertive children and those who have more support system, they are encouraged to seek help through these suggestions.
- Tell And Adult. Think of one adult that you can trust and confide in and respect. It could be your teacher, an uncle or aunt, or a neighbor. Tell them about how you feel – whether you’re afraid, angry, frustrated – and ask help from them. “Healing requires patience, understanding, safety, and validation,” according to Sharie Stines, Psy.D.
- Don’t Avoid Your Friends. You may be embarrassed or scared of what might happen at home, but keep in mind that you must communicate and stay connected to your friends. Don’t get rid of them because you’ll need them in your toughest times. Keep your closest people updated with your situation.
- Write Your Experiences In A Journal. It’s been proven time and time again that writing how you feel is a great way to alleviate your negative emotions and help you work through your frustrations and fears. Keeping a journal is also a means for you to remember things that happened in your life, which led you to decide to seek help. According to Steven Stosny, Ph.D. , “Journaling can have a positive effect on your behavior and well being if it makes you step back and evaluate your thoughts, emotions, and behavior.”
- Remember That You’re Not To Blame. Don’t feel guilty about your addicted parent’s drug or alcohol abuse. You are not the cause of the addiction. You don’t have control over your parent or adult caregiver. You can help them by reaching out to others for help, but you alone cannot cure them.
You might be feeling overwhelmed and embarrassed and afraid, but stop yourself. Instead, think of your rights as a child or a teenager and say them to yourself: I have the right to seek help. I have the right to voice out. I have the right to want to be safe. I have the right to be loved.