Alcohol and substance abuse addiction impacts more than just the addict. When addiction sufferers are parents, an entire family can suffer the negative effects of the addiction. It is estimated that in the United States, twenty million children are experiencing physical, verbal, and emotional abuse from parents who are addicted to alcohol and/or drugs. Children of addicted parents should understand that they are not alone. Resources are available for the entire family to help each impacted member to cope with the dynamics of their family environment.
Children of addicted parents often suffer a wide range of emotional and psychological consequences of their parent’s addiction. When addiction interferes with a child’s ability to bond with his/her parent, they are often left feeling, abandoned, guilty, confused, and anxious, and are forced to develop an emotional maturity faster than an average child. To survive in an environment where a child feels devoid of love and support, they often develop their own survival skills early on, to protect themselves both emotionally and physically. This often produces an individual with an independent, defensive, and mistrustful personality.
Other typical struggles faced by children of addicts includes:
- Guessing at what is normal
- Experiencing difficulty having fun
- Judging themselves mercilessly
- Having difficulty developing emotional relationships
- Feeling “different” from other people
- Having a tendency to be impulsive
- Being either super responsible or super irresponsible
- Desperately seeking approval and affirmation
- Suffering from chronic anxiety
- Lacking self discipline
- Being a compulsive liar
- Suffering from a critical deficiency of self-respect
- Fearing and mistrusting authority figures
Perhaps the greatest psychological detriment to a child of an addict is the oppressive feelings of guilt that they often develop. Children of addicted parents must primarily understand and believe three essential facts:
- They did not cause the addiction.
- They can not control the addiction.
- They can not cure the addiction.
Before an individual can take any steps to support their loved one and protect themselves, they must believe that they are not to blame, and cannot produce a cure.
If you or a loved one are the child of a parent suffering from alcohol or substance abuse addiction, know that there are local and national organizations available to you and your family members that can help you all to cope with the impact that your parent’s addiction is having on your lives:
- Horizon Health Services: Offering specialized mental health and substance abuse treatment for adolescents and their families.
- Al-Anon.org: Support for family members of alcoholics in Western New York.
- Nar-anon: Support for family members of addicts.
- Adultchildren.org: Support for adult children of alcoholics and addicts
Remember addicts or their loved ones can call our 24/7 HOPE line for help in coping with addiction.