Support for Children of Addicts

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The most vital aspect to understand about drug and alcohol addiction is that it’s not simply just a matter of choice. A substance use disorder or addiction is considered to be a brain disease. Many studies on addiction show that substance abuse has the power of affecting brain functionality. The continual and lengthened exposure of an individual’s brain to mind-altering substances creates a “rewiring” process. This rewiring affects many areas of the brain responsible for:

  • Decision-making
  • Self-control
  • Judgment 
  • Behavior

How Addiction Affects Individuals Who Suffer From It

Simply put, this means that even if an individual wants to end addiction, various obstacles need to be overcome. The neural and chemical imbalances make an individual’s brain depend on the drugs needed to function properly. If the supply is cut off, it results in general disarray of the following:

  • The nervous system
  • Neurotransmitters
  • Hormones 

Addiction takes time to develop, and it takes time to overcome. Addiction has the potential of being triggered by different factors and experiences. It develops when external stressors and factors become too heavy for an individual to cope with healthy mechanisms. 

External stressors can be:

  • The death of a loved one
  • Unemployment 
  • Divorce 

How Does Addiction Impact the Child Of An Addict?

The experiences that children of addicted parents live through shape them more than they might notice initially. As children of drug addicted parents grow, evolve, and mature, they might begin to realize later on in life how dissimilar their childhood experiences were from other people. The experiences will be different depending on if the individual that grew up with addicted parents had siblings or not, or if they lived with a single parent.

More frequently than not, children of addicted parents are forced to take responsibility for people and tasks. These same responsibilities might not exist in the lives of children their age. Since the parents of these children are struggling with substance misuse, children of drug addicted parents have to undergo more hardship than they should have. 

The scenario can begin with something minor, such as the parent asking the child to clean up their room, which might seem like a very difficult task to do. This simple request can extend to the children of addicted parents cooking for themselves at an early age to help pay the bills. By engaging in all of these circumstances, it requires children of drug addicted parents to possess a level of maturity they might not have prepared for, depending on their age. 

More on the Effects of Addiction on Children of Addicts

As time goes on, the responsibilities typically pile up. The above-mentioned situation is called role reversal, where the children of addicted parents become “child-parents”. Sometimes when these same children have siblings, the role might shift into taking responsibility and taking care of the younger siblings, too. 

Normally how the above-mentioned scenario plays out is the children of drug addicted parents begin to care for their younger siblings without anyone telling them to or even realizing it. Imagine you are young yourself and having to take care of someone younger than you. It doesn’t sound fun nor is it fair. Emotionally, it can not only leave permanent scars but create issues revolving around their identity to maturity and their overall self-esteem. 

How Should Children Of Addicts Handle Their Parents’ Addiction?

Children of drug addicted parents can only do so much to be encouraging and they have to make certain that they are taking care of themselves also. The pre-existing changes and trauma that transpire can be effectively handled with healthy coping mechanisms. It’s crucial to understand all of the personality traits that come from living with an addicted parent. 

  • Lack of stability or security because of the unhealthy environment surrounding them
  • Repression of emotions which typically derives from not wanting to add to a situation 
  • Experiencing a sense of purposelessness, guilt, low self-esteem, or worthlessness
  • Associated dependencies due to lack control or unprocessed feelings
  • Expressing manipulative behavior 

These effects can be more challenging to recognize since they are extremely connected to an individual’s personality. Many effects are linked to a sense of feelings and identity. Children of addicted parents need psychiatric help as well as the parents. Once it’s considered how much the children of drug addicted parents are at risk, therapy can assist in avoiding them from continuing on the same path as their parents. It’s paramount to avoid continuing the reversal of roles. 

What are the Physical Effects of Role Reversal?

Besides role reversal exerting psychological damage onto children of addicted parents, there is also the physical danger that it can create. As teenagers and children of drug addicted parents become more and more self-sufficient, mistakes are bound to occur. Even playing the role of caregivers, children of addicted parents still learn from their parents. The children of drug addicted parents are normally sensitive to their experiences and their environment. 

Children of addicted parents might be more at risk of experiencing other challenges while growing up such as:

  • Engaging in criminal activity due to toxic connections like drug dealers and lack of options
  • Higher risk of developing mental disorder symptoms like depression and anxiety 
  • Difficulty in social situations due to poor development of their social skills
  • Becoming more violent due to suppressed trauma and frustration 
  • Not performing well in school, both behavior and grades
  • Earlier onset of experimentation with alcohol and drugs
  • Higher risk of experiencing verbal, sexual, and physical abuse
  • Behavioral and emotional problems
  • Low motivation or self-esteem

However, when an addict has a support system, things might be very different. This doesn’t mean that children of addicted parents have no hope for this reason. While the need to evolve rapidly might be inescapable, various resources allow teenagers and children of drug addicted parents to attempt to get help.

From their parents, children can pick up certain genetics, behaviors, values, beliefs, and habits. This makes it all the more important for parents to receive help for addiction before it leaves a lifelong negative impact on their children’s characters.

How Do Individuals Become Addicted to a Substance?

Some studies show that the likelihood of addiction and how it can link to family history and genes. It is possible to be born with a gene that makes an individual more susceptible to addiction. However, having a parent who suffers from addiction doesn’t mean that their children won’t be able to avoid addiction

There are various aspects besides genetics that can affect someone’s possible addiction from occurring. Although genes have the potential to give an individual a predisposition to addiction, it still doesn’t determine their destiny. In a study done with twins, it has been proven that 50% to 60% of addiction cases do occur due to genetic factors. 

Simply put, this translates as while genetic factors make it more likely for an individual to become addicted, it’s not the only factor to “blame”. An individual’s environment can catapult them into addiction. Genetics are known to affect a person’s reaction and behavior. 

When children of drug addicted parents experience trauma or abuse in their childhood or teenage years, it has the power to drive that person into abusing substances simply to cope. Also when a person is exposed to alcohol and drugs at an early age, they are put more at risk of developing an addiction. 

The Mental Health Factor

Another major factor is when there is a presence of a psychiatric disorder. If there is a family history of psychiatric disorders, the chances are even greater. An individual who experiences symptoms of disorders such as anxiety or depression might attempt to self-medicate through smoking, drinking, and using drugs. In this case, the addict can undergo co-occurring disorders such as dual diagnosis. 

An individual’s chance of becoming an addict could increase by a painfully high percentage if they have a mental health disorder. Likewise, exposure at an early age to substances can also escalate the development of an underlying mental disorder. Substance use and psychiatric disorders can feed off of one another, worsening the symptoms for both. 

How to Speak to a Parent About Seeking Help

Depending on your age, it might be more challenging to speak to a parent about undergoing professional help. This issue lies in the fact that most parents don’t realize how much their addiction affects everyone surrounding them. Because of that reason, it might be beneficial to hire someone to intervene and show them why they need to stop drinking/using.

Before approaching the individual struggling with addiction, it’s paramount to know what you will say. Writing down what you need the person suffering from substance use to know will help you stay on topic while speaking. This tactic can also assist the individual in discussing everything you feel the need to.

If you think that you won’t be efficient at this process, or you’re not sure where to start, it might be beneficial to speak to family members or relatives. Talk about how your parent’s addiction can affect them also and ask them for their input. If you have siblings, they can be the ones who understand what you’re going through and discussing the most. 

The positive side of having siblings or others who have witnessed your parent’s addiction struggles is being able to shed light on problems you haven’t thought about or perceived. It would be sustainable for them to speak to your parents about how their addiction affected them. 

Staging an Intervention 

In some cases, it’s common that children of drug addicted parents feel more at ease speaking to their parents in an intervention setting. For a successful intervention to take place, it will be vital to hire an intervention specialist because they acquire experience speaking to individuals who require intervention or are struggling with an addiction. A therapist, coach, religious leader, or counselor of your choosing can help lead you by recommending someone. 

As you begin to include more individuals, it is important to contemplate how comfortable a parent might be with the number of individuals there. Once you solidify the decision to speak to the person, it’s pivotal that they are sober for this intervention. Arrange a time where they will be sober in an environment that is comfortable and neutral. 

It’s necessary to note that various reactions could occur.

The addicted individual may:

  • Begin crying
  • Show signs of denial
  • Become irate or angry

No matter what occurs during the intervention, it’s sustainable to stay in a cool and objective manner to efficiently get your point across. Being persistent is key and you might need to repeat what you have to say several times. As you decide on what is needed to say, it might also be wise to define the result you expect from the intervention. 

During this process, it’s best to tell them what you would like for them to do, such as attend rehab, start attending groups such as AA, whatever they might need to get better. To make a solid decision on these factors, it’ll be vital to discuss them over with the intervention specialist. It is most effective to speak with professionals on what they feel should be the next course of action. 

Even if the intervention is highly successful, it’ll still be ideal to periodically check in on them. They might promise to engage in everything needed to get them better, but it’s unlikely that they will fulfill every promise. You must continue to follow through, and understand that it’s too difficult to carry all of this burden on your own. During this step, ask for help from the following parties to ensure that your parent will go through with the entire program to the end. 

  • Family members
  • Relatives
  • Friends

Recovery Awaits at Lifetime Recovery

The children of addicted parents should understand that their parent’s addiction isn’t their fault. It is not the child’s responsibility to assist their parents in relapse prevention. We can assist the parents in pursuing therapy, avoiding relapse, and undergoing a comfortable detox and withdrawal process. Help is available to you and your family.


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Use this form to send us a message. One of our recovery specialists will get back to you.

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By clicking “submit”, I consent to join the email list and receive SMS from Lifetime Recovery Center, with access to our latest offers and services. Message and data rates may apply. Message frequency varies. More details on this are in our Privacy Policy and Terms and Conditions. Text "HELP" for help or contact us at 844-896-8156. Text "STOP" to cancel.