A pair of socks? A round of golf? Some peace and quiet to enjoy the match? Father’s Day is on Sunday June 16 this year and for most, it is a day to celebrate and cherish the main man in a child’s life. That is, unless Daddy is an addict.
It doesn’t matter what the addiction is – alcohol, substances or gambling – addicted parents don’t just harm themselves, they wreak havoc on the lives of those closest to them. And who closer than their own children? When your focus is on your next high, your next pint, your next win; your children get left behind. Once you understand how your addiction affects them, you can help them lead better, safer lives.
Unfortunately, children of addicted fathers are often neglected and don’t receive the care, love and guidance they need. They may grow up believing the lack of attention they receive is their fault. It’s very difficult to build a positive self-image in this kind of environment.
This kind of childhood can impact a child’s development in the long-term. Often, the effects persist well until adulthood. As well as lasting self-esteem issues, childhood neglect can affect relationships later in life, making it hard to bond with people and trust them.
No child wants to be neglected, and no parent wants their child to feel alone. But addictions make it difficult to put a loved one’s needs before your own desires.
Neglect is a kind of child abuse, but abuse takes many other forms as well. An addicted parent’s poor mental health and altered state of mind when drunk or high can lead to abusive behaviour. The abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional, and/or psychological in nature.
An addicted father may emotionally abuse their children in what they say (or don’t say) and in what they do (or don’t do). Verbal abuse can take the form of insults, name-calling, threats, harassment, humiliation, shaming and criticism. This can leave children of addiction feeling they have little self-worth or value. In brains that are still developing, this negative belief system can become ingrained and cause many issues later in life, like depression, anxiety, or their own form of substance abuse.
Non-verbal emotional abuse includes withholding food, shelter and other basic necessities from a child (physical neglect), and not giving them the attention or affection they deserve (emotional neglect).
A substance abuser may become angry, aggressive and irritable when they’re high or drunk, causing their child to be fearful of them in this state. Of course, it can be traumatic to grow up in a household where they can’t rely on their father to look after their physical and emotional needs. Alcohol and drug abuse can rob you of the empathy you need to care for your child. But empathy can be learned and strengthened in sobriety.
Spending time with family, including parents and siblings, teaches children how to communicate in the real world. But with children whose father is addicted, this communication channel might be lost. In addition, older children may not open up to their parents about their own issues as others might. This is when you tell yourself that you need help.
Addicted fathers often behave in unpredictable ways and this can cause children of addicts to shy away from bringing friends over. A child’s peers may also bully them about their parent’s addiction, or embarrassing behaviour in public.
Children of addiction may refuse to go to school events, gatherings, parties, or outings to avoid their parent showing up and potentially acting inappropriately. In this way, addicted parents can become a guilty secret, affecting a child’s chances of leading a normal social life.
Children growing up in a home with a addicted father are much more likely to perform poorly in school. This happens for different reasons:
While genetics play a role in the likelihood of becoming a person with addiction, external factors also matter. A growing child looks to their parents as authority figures, who offer guidance on navigating through life. If a child constantly witnesses gambling, alcohol and drug abuse, they may see it as normal behaviour.
You can prevent your child from copying your behaviour later in life. Don’t use, drink or gamble in front of them. Hiding this behaviour from your children is one of the best things you can do to protect them. But the very best thing is to seek treatment for your addiction.
Being a caring and attentive father is a challenge, but especially so when you’re struggling with an addiction. There are ways to do better and knowing how your addiction affects your children can be the single biggest motivating factor in recovery. As you restore order, stability and tranquillity to your life, you can work on rebuilding a healthy relationship with your children and help them flourish.
If you, or someone you love, is struggling with addiction, get help not only for yourself, but for your children as well.
Tabor Group is a leading provider of residential addiction treatment services in Ireland. We provide support and care to hundreds of clients suffering from addictions to alcohol, substances, gambling and eating disorders. For more information on Tabor Group’s services, click here.