Growing up with drug-addicted parents is never ideal, but it’s a reality faced by millions of families in the United States. Over 21 million Americans live with a substance use disorder, indicating a significant issue that affects far more than one’s personal well-being.
Addiction can impact life in many ways, from job stability to relationships. In a family setting, the effects can be far more pronounced. Children depend on their parents to provide for them, and a drug-addicted parent may not be able to offer the shelter, food, love and support necessary to raise a healthy and well-adjusted child.
Children of addicts grow up facing more challenges than the average child. They may be forced to enter the workforce earlier, live in homes without two stable parents, shoulder the burden of health care for their parents or organize their own schooling and extracurricular activities. They may also face abuse at the hands of an intoxicated parent. All of these factors can have an unfortunate effect on upbringing, making it vitally important that children encourage their addicted parents to seek treatment and that parents prioritize getting help for the benefit of their kids.
How Addiction Can Affect Drug-Addicted Parents
Addiction can impact life in many different ways, even if they aren’t always apparent to an individual with a substance use disorder.
When a person is desperate for a fix, the need to get high or drunk can and often does supersede providing the proper care a child needs. This can mean a lack of focus on helping with homework, buying and preparing food, making sure children get to school on time and attending obligations like parent-teacher conferences and doctor appointments.
Even if a parent isn’t making mistakes like leaving children at school or neglecting to feed them, the effects of abuse will still be apparent to children. Children are more observant than some people believe and will be able to tell when something else is vying for their parents’ attention. This can create long-term issues that will affect the parent-child relationship in ways that can be irreparable. Individuals with a substance use disorder may see a few days of missed school pick-ups or late meals as harmless accidents, but the anger and distress that can come with being neglected will stay with children for a very long time.
Parenting effectively cannot be maintained when a parent has a substance use disorder. At the start of an addiction, balancing the two may seem possible, but sooner or later, addiction will take over and children will be forced to face a challenging home life.
Long-Term Effects on Children
Addiction is unhealthy for those living with a substance use disorder, but it’s also problematic for family members living in the same home.
In the United States, an estimated one in eight children under age 18 lives in a home with at least one drug-addicted parent, or around 20 million children. Drug and alcohol abuse contributed to 35% of cases in which a child was removed from a home in 2016.
The effects of drug abuse on children can start as early as birth. In 2016, an estimated 350,000 children were born with potential effects from parental alcohol consumption, while 220,000 were born with potential effects from illicit drug use and 24,000 were born with withdrawal symptoms. Drug and alcohol use while pregnant can cause physical defects, stunted growth and mental disorders. In most cases, these effects can be treated, but not cured.
In addition to physical complications, children of addicts often display behavioral and emotional problems. Children of parents with a substance use disorder often perform poorly in school, rebel against authority and act out in social situations. They may have trouble building relationships with their peers and develop trust issues. In older children, a disrespect for authority and a drive to rebel against social norms can lead to legal trouble.
For these children, the road to a bright future with a good job and a stable home life is fraught with challenges. Poor circumstances in early childhood have the potential to damage a life in a permanent way.
Resolving Trauma Caused by an Addicted Parent
Growing up with an addicted parent may cause problems during childhood, but those issues likely won’t stop after moving out and gaining independence. Many children who grew up with addicted parents carry the effects of their experiences into adulthood, and the traumas caused by addiction can be deeply problematic.
Therapy can be a very valuable tool for those living with trauma, anxiety, depression or any other mental illness as a result of a parent’s neglectful behavior. A family therapist with experience in addiction can help navigate challenging feelings and implement a treatment plan using therapeutic techniques and, if needed, medication to alleviate symptoms. Overcoming the hurdles associated with a parent with a substance use disorder is never easy, but it can be a vital step on the road to acceptance and recovery.
How a Parent Can Mitigate the Damage Done by Addiction
Addiction is a disease, not a moral failing. However, this means that, like with all diseases, proper treatment is necessary. A parent who wants to avoid further damage to a child and work to right past wrongs needs to seek proper rehabilitation as soon as possible. There’s nothing to be gained from ongoing addiction and everything to lose.
Children of parents in active addiction are often left helpless, as they have limited control over a parents’ actions. Whenever possible, children should encourage their parents to pursue treatment and support a parent who chooses to enter a long-term care program.
Admitting a need for help is never easy, but for parents attempting to raise children while living with a substance use disorder, seeking assistance is imperative. Asking for outside support can be scary or uncomfortable, but children of addicts deserve a parent who can provide the care and support necessary to ensure a safe, stable life.
FHE Health is a comprehensive treatment center with inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation resources. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help those with an addiction to drugs or alcohol see a light at the end of the tunnel.