Learning to navigate the world can be challenging for children who are trying to make friends, do well in school and acquire the life skills they’ll need to be healthy, happy adults. Growing up with drug-addicted parents adds extra complications to a child’s life and puts them at a higher risk of struggling socially, emotionally and academically.
Easy access to drugs or alcohol is another problem that might threaten the future of a child with addicted parents. They could start experimenting with substance use and develop a tolerance early in life. Due to addiction’s genetic component, someone who grows up in a household where substance abuse is prevalent may be more vulnerable to perpetuating the cycle of addictive behavior. What other issues are characteristic among children whose parents have untreated substance use disorders?
Role Reversal in the Parent-Child Relationship
Typically, parents assume the primary caregiving responsibilities, providing guidance and support for their growing children. However, when substance abuse is involved, the child often assumes accountability for looking after their parent. For example, if money is tight because Mom or Dad has lost their job, an older child might step in and find part-time work.
Out of a misguided desire to love and support a parent living with an untreated substance use disorder, a child might unknowingly enable self-destructive behavior by making up excuses for a parent’s unpredictability or trying to “rescue” a parent who is struggling.
All these scenarios require children to rise to a maturity level they might not be ready to take on. Addicted parents often have problems setting and sustaining healthy boundaries, which means children who grow up impacted by substance abuse might be excellent caretakers, but never fully develop a separate identity from the substance-using adults around them.
When family members have problems with drugs and alcohol, the resulting strain often leads to dysfunctional relationships and maladaptive coping mechanisms such as denial, deflection and emotional withdrawal. Since an overriding compulsion to drink or use drugs is a hallmark of addiction, drug-addicted parents might overlook their children’s needs. As a result, growing up with drug-addicted parents can make children feel isolated, misunderstood and unloved.
Children whose parents are often drunk or high could also be too embarrassed to invite their friends over for sleepovers or after-school get-togethers. As a result, their lives may become so confined that they fail to develop healthy, well-rounded relationships with their peers.
Treating Addiction as a Family Disease
Growing up with drug-addicted parents can cause a child to shoulder responsibility or blame for their parents’ drug or drinking problem, believing they have somehow caused the illness or that they should feel guilty about the behavior of the adults around them. They may be ashamed or anxious to ask for help from anyone outside their immediate family out of fear that they’ll be “betraying” their parents by confiding in someone else. However, speaking up about the problem is essential for healing, moving past dysfunction and avoiding getting caught in a cycle of substance abuse.
At Vista Taos, we know a worsening substance use disorder doesn’t only affect the user – it impacts everyone around them. That’s why we offer comprehensive family programming for our clients and their loved ones. To learn more about the benefits of enrolling in our accredited substance abuse treatment center, contact us today.