Drug or alcohol related addiction is something that plagues millions of Americans every year. For many, these addictions go on for years, decades, or even a lifetime. And while you may recognize the destruction you’re causing, are you aware that your addiction is also impacting your children in a rather dramatic manner?
Exploring the Impact of Parental Addiction on Children
Olivia Pennelle grew up in a family where her father was an alcoholic. His chronic abuse and dependency affected her family in more ways than one –eventually splitting the family up and fostering addictions and abuse in Olivia’s own life. While she’s since gone through recovery and has been sober for a handful of years now, she knows just how impactful it can be to grow up in a household with an addicted parent.
“I was undeserving of that childhood,” Olivia writes for Rehabs.com. “It always breaks my heart when I hear of other children affected by substance abuse. Sometimes, I want to shake people and tell them how their destructive behavior influences their child’s emotional well-being for the rest of their life. No child should be born into such a tangled mess – one that will take years in therapy to unravel.
As a parent who is currently suffering through an addiction, or has a tendency to abuse drugs or alcohol in certain situations, it’s imperative that you recognize the pain and damage your addiction can cause your kids.
1. Abusive Relationships
Whether you realize it or not, your substance abuse problem more than likely manifests itself in other forms of abuse towards your spouse and/or children. In many cases, this looks like verbal abuse, physical abuse, or even sexual abuse. Obviously, the impact of these types of abuse can be far-reaching and detrimental on a child’s development.
2. Premature Responsibility
Kids should have time to be kids. They should be out riding bikes, participating in sports, playing with friends, and having tea parties in the living room. They shouldn’t be cooking meals, washing dishes, and making sure their parents get out of bed in the morning.
When a parent abuses drugs or alcohol, they often force children to prematurely adopt responsibilities that are meant for much older kids (or even adults). While this doesn’t always end up being a negative in the long run, it unjustly robs young kids of their childhood.
3. Skewed View of Family
Growing up, you always think your family is normal. It isn’t until you go away to college or move out of the house for the first time that you start to recognize your version of normal is different from the next person’s.
For kids that grow up in households with addiction, they assume that substance abuse is normal. This creates a skewed view of family that can take a lifetime to correct.
4. Financial Instability
Where there is abuse and addiction, there is almost always financial instability. This indirectly impacts your kids and provides an incorrect picture of what it looks like to be smart with money.
Codependency is the psychological relationship that often forms between two people, one of whom has an illness or addiction that requires support. While it’s often present in a spousal relationship, it can form when a child is forced to care for an addicted parent.
The problem with experiencing codependency at a young age is that it often leads children to seek it out in future relationships. As a result, they find themselves in cycles of abuse and/or addiction because it’s the only way they know how to live.
6. Isolation and Loneliness
The nuclear family is supposed to provide safety, security, and a sense of acceptance, but families with addictions and substance abuse often do more to propagate isolation and loneliness than anything else.
“We feel left out in the cold, as if we’re floating above the heads of those we yearn to be connected to, out there on our own so to speak,” Dr. Tian Dayton says. “We feel unseen and misunderstood and this experience over and over and over again can morph into a sort of cumulative trauma that informs both our sense of who we are and who we are to others. It becomes the learning that we build upon and carry into all of our interactions.”
7. Increased Risk of Addiction
“Numerous scientific studies reveal that alcohol and drug dependence runs in families. Research conducted on twins and adopted children has shown the impact of genetics in relation to alcohol and drug dependence, and in recent years, researchers have identified numerous genes as affecting risk for dependence on alcohol and drugs,” the NCADD explains. “And while no specific “addiction” gene has been identified, a number of different genetic and biological factors make someone more or less vulnerable to becoming an addict.”
When a child has a genetic disposition that makes them more likely to become an addict, exposure to a parent’s addiction can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. It’s what they see and know, which makes it more comfortable for them.
Your Consequences Go Beyond You
It’s easy to assume that your addiction and substance abuse problems are isolated, but this is never true. When you abuse alcohol or drugs, you leave a wake of destruction behind. Unfortunately, your kids take the brunt of the force. If you need help, get it. You have more than yourself to worry about – your child’s future is on the line.