Children living with an addicted parent may see things that traumatise them, or that are hard to understand. They may feel unloved, hurt and frightened.
Traumatic events, neglect and hurt feelings can impact them emotionally, developmentally and in other ways that last well into adulthood.
There are so many ways in which a parent’s addiction affects children in the home. The most prevalent is neglect. When a parent is focused on feeding their addiction, he or she has little time to spend on children. When a parent is drunk or high, they don’t have the ability to focus on children, or care for them properly.
In addition to neglect, many parents abusing drugs or alcohol may also abuse their children. To many children live in fear of a parent being high or drunk and becoming angry and aggressive.
Neglect, abuse and other kinds of trauma – such as witnessing a parent in a high or drunken state – cause other effects, which ripple outward into a child’s later life.
Addiction in the home can ultimately lead to a child doing poorly in school, having no understanding of how to relate to other children and even developing post-traumatic stress disorder. They often ‘grow up’ too fast and don’t get to enjoy their childhood.
As adults, the children of addicts carry these issues with them. They often end up in unsatisfactory or even abusive relationships, and they may even become substance abusers themselves. When children of addicts grow up to become addicts themselves, they keep a dangerous and hopeless cycle going. It’s up to everyone to help children of addicts who have been so badly affected by their parents’ illnesses.
Children living in homes where there is parental substance abuse can find life difficult, unpredictable and confusing. Sometimes they even believe the alcohol, substance abuse, gambling or eating disorder is their fault.
Dealing with the chaos and unpredictability of their home life, children receive inconsistent messages. They can feel guilt and shame trying to keep the family ‘secret’. Children often they feel abandoned due to the emotional unavailability of their parents.
If the family breaks up because of addiction, some children become withdrawn and shy; while others can become explosive and violent. They often develop issues with self-esteem, attachment, autonomy and trust.
What do you tell children when one or both of their parents are addicts? How do you explain the chaos? First and foremost, because trust is always an issue, you tell them the truth. They need to hear it.
Children need to know that their parents are not ‘bad’ people, they are sick people who have a disease called addiction. When they are drunk or high, sometimes parents can do things that are mean, or things that don’t make sense.
Children must understand that they are not the reason a parent drinks too much, gambles, or abuses drugs. They did not cause the addiction and they cannot stop it.
Children need to realise that their situation is not unique, and they are not alone. They need to know that even in their own school, there are other children in the same situation.
Children in homes with substance abuse need to know that it’s OK to talk about the problem, without having to feel scared, ashamed or embarrassed. They do not have to lie, cover up and keep secrets. They should be encouraged to find someone that they trust – a teacher, a counsellor, a relative, a friend’s parent, or members of a support group – and be honest about what’s going on at home.
Children dealing with family addiction might benefit from knowing the following ‘7 Cs of Addiction’:
I didn’t Cause it.
I can’t Cure it.
I can’t Control it.
I can Care for myself.
By Communicating my feelings.
Making healthy Choices.
By Celebrating myself.
Children from homes where there is parental addiction are often scared, lonely and feel isolated from society. Whether you deliver the message perfectly or not, giving them someone with whom they can talk is an important step in their recovery.
If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, get help today. We can help you recover in a healthy, friendly environment and beat your addiction. Don’t hesitate to contact one of our counsellors today for information at +353 (21) 488 7110 or email us at Email Us We can help you.