When Mom or Dad is addicted to drugs, the situation can be especially hard for their children. It’s not common for children of drug addicts to feel alone, unsure what to do, and scared that others may find out about their parent’s drug use. Whether you’re a kid or an adult, learning how to live with a drug-addicted parent can seem an impossible feat; yet, there is help.
How Common This Situation Is
In a 2017 report titled “Children Living with Parents Who Have a Substance Use Disorder,” the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported that one in eight children was living in a house where at least one parent had a substance use disorder, according to data from the 2009 – 2014 “National Surveys on Drug Use and Health.” The same report by SAMHSA noted the National Surveys’ findings that about 1 in 35 children (2.1 million) lived with at least one parent with an illicit drug use disorder in the past year.
Drug-addicted parents may not be as common as alcoholic parents. Still, the fact that substance abuse in parents is not that uncommon can be reassuring for anyone navigating a parent’s drug problem. It means you’re not alone. There are others in the same shoes.
Parents are Human, Not Exempt from Disease of Addiction
Parents mean the world to their children, who look up to Mom and Dad as role models for good behavior. A parent should do no wrong or show they’re incapable of fulfilling their parental duties, so it can be shocking and heartbreaking to see a parent struggle with drug addiction.
Yet drug addiction is not a vice. It’s also not a sign of poor character or moral weakness. Like other chronic health issues, addiction is a relapsing brain disease that can be helped with professional medical treatment.
Parents are therefore as vulnerable to drug addiction as anyone else. For example, a good-faith effort to cope with pain following an accident, surgery, or to manage long-term chronic pain—so Mom can maintain her work and parenting duties—can pave the way to an opiate use disorder (SUD).
Just because a parent has a prescription for a medication doesn’t mean that they can’t become addicted to it and (eventually) illicit drugs . Indeed, according to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an estimated 4.8 million adults age 26 and older had an illicit drug use disorder. Millions of people in the U.S. are addicted to prescription painkillers, for example, and when their drug supply is no longer available, they often turn to illegal street drugs like heroin.
In the past year, among those age 26 and older:
- About 3.5 million misused benzodiazepines for relief of anxiety (tranquilizers) or insomnia (sedatives).
- An estimated 7.4 million misused prescription pain relievers, like hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (OxyContin), and generic oxycodone.
- Some 7.7 million misused opioids, including illicit drugs like heroin, and prescription pain relievers.
Needing Help Is a Reality
If Mom or Dad has a problem with their drug use, the reality is they need to seek help. In fact, they likely have acknowledged as much to their children at one time or another. Typically, a person will be more likely to admit they have a drug problem after they have experienced the negative consequences of their use (in the aftermath of an episode of drug use, for example).
Another Reality: They Continuously Break Promises or Cannot See How to Seek Help
A child of a drug-addict parent or a child living with drug addicts knows all too well the litany of lies and broken promises. They’ve heard them on a continuous basis for most of their childhood, or as long as the parent has wrestled with drugs.
The drug addict parent may mistakenly believe there’s no way they can stop the drug use that’s ruining their life and that of their children. Meanwhile, the affected child may feel totally helpless, unable to influence their parent’s path to sobriety.
What Role Should a Child Play in Helping a Parent?
As a child living with drug addicts, you want the best for your parents, especially if your addicted parents have indicated they want to overcome their addiction. Even if they staunchly deny being addicted, or insist that their drinking and drug use is manageable and you shouldn’t worry, you still want to learn how to deal with the problem in the best possible manner.
What should your role be in helping a parent? What can you say that may convince your drug addict parent to get treatment?
Here are some tips:
· Do not assume so much burden for the problem that it harms your own wellbeing.
Whether you’re a young child, teenager, or adult child of a drug addict parent, keep in mind that you did not cause the parent to drink or do drugs. It’s not your fault, so you don’t need to feel guilty or ashamed that you have addicted parents. Although you want to do all you can to help your parents, never put your own wellbeing at risk.
· It’s the same as an intervention, in that you need concrete steps.
If you are going to present a challenge for the drug addict parent, or give them a solution for how to move forward, it’s essential to have firm steps to follow. An example of a concrete step is your insistence that your drug addict parent enters a rehab program, and have information, pamphlets, an appointment with the family doctor, or another medical professional who can assist in convincing addicted parents to get help.
· Talk to someone you trust about the situation.
It may seem like the last thing you want to do is admit to an outsider that Mom or Dad is a drug addict, but as children of addicts eventually must do for their own sanity and health—as well as for their parent who’s addicted to drugs—you have to talk to someone you trust. This could be a grandparent, older sibling, a teacher, pastor, family doctor, or another person of authority who can listen objectively and offer encouragement and advice. A family doctor may be able to convince Mom or Dad to go to a treatment facility for an assessment or to participate in outpatient therapy following detox from alcohol or drugs. You need someone to talk to so that you aren’t trying to figure everything out on your own.
· Get help in a support group.
The best way to fully appreciate that you’re not alone in how to deal with drug-addicted parents is to participate in a self-help group for children of alcoholics or drug addicts. For teens, an excellent group is Alateen. For loved ones and other family members, including the adult children of addicted parents, check out Al-Anon.
· Be involved in the treatment process.
Once your parent begins treatment, it’s important to be involved in your parent’s treatment process. Remember that it isn’t just the individual with the drug problem who is affected. Research shows that addiction affects all family members.
Reach Out if You Need Assistance
Still in a quandary about how to deal with drug-addicted parents? FHE Health can help. We’re experts in treating drug abuse and co-occurring mental health disorders (including depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder, and others) and can provide trusted guidance about how to help your mom or dad. Our program to treat drug addiction is nationally recognized for its positive treatment outcomes.
As an additional support, our professional interventionists can help you stage an intervention for Mom or Dad and help them safely and smoothly transition into detox and treatment. We’re always available to take your call or respond to your request for information. For immediate and confidential assistance, call (877) 921-0488.