While in the grip of substance abuse disorder, an addict may believe their alcohol and substance abuse is their own business. However, an addict’s behavior affects everyone around them, especially their children. Naturally, children look up to their parents as role models, for good or ill. When an addicted parent acts negatively, the child will remember it for years to come. In fact, the parent’s negative influence impacts a child’s life in many ways, well into adulthood.
How Addiction Affects Children of Addicts
Drug addiction by a parent or parents is hazardous to their children. The damage done varies depending upon the age of the child at onset of the parent’s addiction and the severity of the parent’s behavior. Parents who suffer from substance abuse disorders frequently fail to consistently give a child the psychological, emotional, and physical support they need. The resulting lack of a stable, nurturing relationship between a parent and child can further push the child to seek comfort from unhealthy sources. Some children will follow in their parent’s footsteps and begin alcohol and drug abuse at a young age. Others may develop dysfunctional relationships with romantic partners or with their own children later in life.
Children of alcoholics or children of drug-addicted parents are often subjected to various forms of abuse: emotional abuse, physical abuse, even sexual abuse. As a result of abuse or neglect, for their own protection some children are required to leave their parents to live with another family member or placed in foster care. However, such is the innate parent-child bond that many children don’t want to be separated from their parents, even if that parent is abusive. The child may even believe it is somehow their fault they are being separated from their parents. They may feel as though they need to remain with their alcoholic or drug-addicted parent to take care of them. This can lead to separation anxiety, which can be traumatic and damaging as well.
The psychological effect on children living with an addict can lead to long-term mental health problems. Young children and adult children can develop feelings of insecurity, mistrust, and emotional suppression. Some children suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and if left untreated it will last into adulthood and in fact may not even become noticeable until adulthood. Other psychological effects children may suffer are:
- Anxiety disorder
- Panic attacks
- Dysthymia (chronic long-term depression)
- Social dysfunction
- Agoraphobia (fear of places or situations)
Compared to the general population, children of addicted parents tend to suffer more from antisocial personality traits. This is typically due to the chaotic and insecure environment to which these children are subjected at such a young age. Unfortunately, most children living with addicted parents will become addicts themselves, whether it is alcohol abuse or drug abuse.
If a parent does not treat their addiction nor seek mental health help for themselves and their children, the child’s future interpersonal relationships suffer. Many adults who were raised in an alcoholic or drug dependent home show signs of insecure attachment issues, a fear of rejection and abandonment. This could result in the avoidance of relationships or in unbalanced relationships with a partner or friends. Insecure attachment patterns can be seen in all relationships, including with friends or co-workers, or with their own children. The following are common signs of the negative life-long effects:
- Avoiding intimate or emotional relationships
- Suppressing vulnerable thoughts and feelings
- Lacking the ability to recognize other’s need for emotional support or empathy
- Exhibiting a neediness personality, but unable to become emotionally close
- Very critical of others, rude or insensitive
- Unable to accept changes in routine or their surrounding environment
- Feeling extremely guilty or helpless
- Blaming those around them for anything that is or has gone wrong, unable or unwilling to accept responsibility
- Controlling and unpredictable
- A facade of manipulative charm, used to gain trust
- Emotionally and/or physically abusive
Chronic stress negatively impacts the brain and body. The brain depends on the body to be healthy to develop and function correctly. The brain regulates our emotional state. In chronic stress environments, the brain and body are unable to positively manage stress. Stress can lead to depression and anxiety disorders that prevent the brain from controlling negative behaviors.
Treatment for Children of Addicted Parents
When a person suffers from negative long-term effects of living in an abusive home, they need to know there is professional help from which they can benefit. Trained professionals help children and adults learn to manage stressful situations and overcome interpersonal relationship problems.
Psychotherapy treatment helps an individual understand that their addicted parent’s substance abuse disorder was not their fault. Once they begin to understand the negative effects, they will learn what to expect on a day-to-day basis. Individuals involved in psychotherapy treatment learn the following:
- How to recognize and change maladaptive behavior
- How to improve their impulsive behaviors and critical thinking
- How to effectively manage stress
- How to develop positive intimate relationships with partners, family members, friends, and co-workers
- How to overcome social and mental health disorders
Suffering from addiction can prevent a person from noticing the negative effects they have on others around them. Children tend to bear the brunt of abuse because they are always there and unable to fight back or stand up for themselves. This leads to life-long effects a child must learn to overcome in order to prevent mental health problems and/or addiction from reoccurring in their own lives.
If you or a loved one suffers from addiction or the effects of addiction, Serenity Acres Treatment Center offers the dual diagnosis treatment needed to start you on the road to recovery.