Approximately 28.6 million children in the United States are the children of alcoholics. Many children also find themselves learning how to deal with drug-addicted parents at a young age. So, while your situation can feel shameful and isolating, know that you are not alone if you are learning how to deal with addicted parents. Your emotions surrounding the addiction are just as important as the issue itself. Whether you took on extra responsibilities or tried to distance yourself, you have likely suffered great emotional strain that can continue to affect you.
You may feel like your parent’s addiction is out of your control, especially if you are still young and living with them. But help is out there, for you and for all members of your family. Whether you’re seeking support groups or treatment programs, we can help you discover the assistance that’s right for you. Call us today at 706-480-8733 to learn more about support in your area.
Coping with an addiction is a big challenge to handle. Continue reading below for more information about addiction and how it affects everyone. Contact us today if you need more help.
How Addiction Affects Families
The children of drug-addicted parents can struggle just as much as the addicts themselves. Addicted parents do not have to actively harm their children in order to cause them pain. Simply living with an addict and being exposed to their behavior can cause emotional trauma whether or not the addict intends it. By definition, they are too preoccupied with their substance use to maintain healthy lives and relationships, much less provide an optimal environment for children.
Parents with addictions often cannot create a sense of safety or stability for their children. The resulting unpredictability and unreliability of parents on drugs can lead to a variety of emotional and behavioral issues. In the absence of parental support, children of addicted parents adopt certain roles to cope with their uncertain circumstances. These roles illustrate the different ways that addiction can affect children. Below are the common roles and their main characteristics.
The Hero is usually the oldest child. They feel they must be self-reliant and responsible for the whole family, a phenomenon also known as “parentification.” They help with parental duties and make sacrifices in order to do the right thing for their siblings. It is hard for “heroes” to give up control, and they are generally anxious and lonely.
Instead of taking charge like the Hero, the Adjuster tries to fit in where they can and adapt to the situation. They often continue to have difficulty taking initiative and pursuing their goals later in life.
Placaters are very sensitive to others’ feelings. They avoid conflict by trying to please everyone around them. In order to fulfill the needs of others, they will neglect their own emotional needs. Typically, they have ongoing difficulty in discovering their own wants and goals.
The Scapegoat acts out negative behavior (promiscuity, drug use, etc.) to distract the family from the addict. If they are in trouble, then the parents have a common problem to unite around. Scapegoats have difficulty expressing and managing their emotions.
The Lost Child
This is usually a younger child who attempts to withdraw from the conflict completely. They prefer to distract themselves with music, video games, the internet, or other means. Lost Children seek safety in solitude. Their relationships and social skills may suffer because of this.
The Mascot is often the youngest child. Similar to Placaters, they attempt to relieve tension among family members. They manage their own fear by being cute or funny to distract others.
If you have drug-addicted parents, you may relate to one or more of the roles above. Deviating from the role can feel threatening, even when you have grown up and removed yourself from your original circumstances. When you are forced to adopt these roles in order to cope with your parents’ addictions, you may be unable to develop healthy behaviors and emotional intelligence in the future. Continuing to rely on your old coping skills when you no longer need them can cause further distress.
Addiction’s Lasting Effects on Children
One of the most common traits in children of drug addicted parents is the need for control. If you are the child of an addict, you likely grew up in a constant state of anxiety. Addiction made your parents erratic, which made you distrustful. You had to always be on guard for signs of danger and changing behavior. You probably learned to become self-reliant and maintain extreme control over your actions and feelings in order to avoid backlash from your parents.
Now, you may feel that any situation is unsafe unless you are the one controlling it. Forming new relationships or reaching out for help might feel risky because these things require letting your guard down and openly discussing emotions. Intimacy can feel like a loss of control.
Your relationships may also be affected in other ways. Because of your skewed relationship with your parents, you may find yourself attracted to compulsive personalities or those who are emotionally unavailable. Children of addicts are also more likely to select partners who are alcoholics.
Perhaps you were even forced to take on a parental role, especially if you have younger siblings. You may now have a heightened sense of responsibility for others, and attempting to step out of this role and attend to your own needs makes you feel guilty. If you are used to being the responsible one, you may also feel the need to always “rescue” others, because helping someone else comes more naturally than focusing on your own difficulties.
The term “second-hand drinking” was coined by the author (and daughter of an alcoholic mother) Lisa Frederiksen. It refers to the “toxic stress” that alcoholics can impose on other people. Toxic stress creates an environment of constant worry, insecurity, fear, anger, self-judgment, and unclear boundaries. This stress causes children to adopt some of the same negative behaviors associated with their parent’s addiction. When children of addicted parents grow up and have their own children, they can pass along these behaviors without realizing it. Second-hand drinking is also a major risk factor for developing an actual addiction.
No matter the situation, we are here to help. If you, or someone you care for, are struggling with addiction then reach out to us today. Please do not hesitate to call. Our experts can help you get back on your feet.
Adult Children of Addicts
The negative consequences of living with drug-addicted parents typically do not end once children move out of their parents’ care. The emotional trauma of being forced to cope with an unpredictable home life can have long–lasting effects.
The concept of “adult children of alcoholics” (ACOAs) has roots in Alcoholics Anonymous and other self-help movements. It acknowledges alcoholism, along with other forms of addiction, as a “family disease” that impacts all members, including grown children.
Researchers and family members of addicts have worked to identify the lasting and detrimental behaviors common to adult children in dysfunctional families. Some of these behaviors include, but are not limited to:
- Difficulty following a project through from beginning to end
- Lying when it would be just as easy to tell the truth
- Judging themselves without mercy
- Difficulty having fun
- Constantly seeking approval and affirmation
- Heightened responsibility or irresponsibility
- Extremely loyalty, even in the face of evidence that it is undeserved
Although not every behavior on the list will apply to every individual, it is likely that you will recognize at least a few if you are the child of an addict.
Support Groups for Children of Addicts
With seemingly no one to turn to, you may have bottled up your negative emotions and become numb to your feelings altogether. You may feel isolated from your peers. Perhaps your family members have decided that it is better to ignore the issue than to engage in conflict. But in order to heal from the emotional trauma, you need to be able to express the pain that you have carried with you.
As a result of prolonged psychological distress, many children of alcoholics and addicts develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. If you feel your mental health is suffering as a result of dealing with drug-addicted parents, know that support groups and counseling are available to you, even if you do not have an addiction yourself.
Getting involved with a support group can help you learn from others in similar situations. Support groups are safe spaces to express your emotions surrounding your parent’s addiction and realize that you are not alone. They provide you with a sense of community and opportunities to make connections outside your family. They also teach you healthy coping skills.
Support groups can provide vital support you may lack from your family. Although you may be used to relying only on yourself, you should not have to solve every problem alone. When you speak with others who struggle with similar issues, you can find new solutions. It is difficult and scary to trust others with things you have taken special care to keep hidden, but you will quickly realize that your struggles are not only common but also resolvable.
Call us today if you would like additional information or support. We are here to guide you to the recovery that is best suited for you and your needs.
Help is Within Reach
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an estimated 25% percent of children under 18 are exposed to family alcohol abuse or dependence. When a child cannot look to their caregivers for support, they must cope in ways that can damage their development and mental health. Some may take control into their own hands, others suppress their emotions and detach from the situation, and some even turn to drug use themselves. In any case, they learn to regard unpredictability as the norm, and their development suffers as a result.
Children of addicts also often have a strong sense of shame surrounding their family issues and parents’ behavior, even if the behavior is not publicly visible. This can make it hard to discuss the issue with others or reach out for help. But staying silent will only compound your isolation. There are people in similar situations who can help you rediscover your sense of support and unity. You may not be able to control your parent’s addiction, but you can control what you do about it.
Along with finding solace for yourself, you can also help your parents find their way toward recovery. It is okay to want to offer love and support to your parents, and with proper treatment and commitment to change on both sides, it’s possible to rediscover healthy boundaries. For more information on the best way to approach your parents about receiving treatment, reach out to us at the number below. We can help guide you and your parents to the help that’s right for everyone.