Family is the most important social construct in a person’s life. From birth to death, there are occasions when an individual’s survival hinges on the strength of the family unit. This is especially true for children. It’s family that keeps a person safe, provides what’s needed for survival and teaches important social skills. The importance of family transcends social and economic circumstances and is vital in virtually all cultures. According to The Family Pediatrics Report, families are “the most central and enduring influence in [our] lives regardless of… education, composition, income or values”.1 Having a strong, functional family is essential to optimal physical, psychological and social development.
But what if a child’s parent suffers from an addiction? Much of the literature that’s available concerning addiction in the family is addressed to parents of addicted children. While many parents have benefited this research, little has been provided for the children of addicted parents, a scenario that often has far greater consequences.
For adolescents, teens and even adult children of addicted parents, determining how to help during this pivotal time is challenging. Therefore, the following are suggestions for the children of addicted parents whose families’ well-being is hanging in the balance.
Learn About the Addict’s Disease
In recent years, efforts have been made to increase substance abuse and addiction education in schools. Informing youth about addiction is vital to understanding this disease. Ideally, educating adolescents on the risks associated with alcohol and drug abuse will encourage them to reconsider engaging in potentially addictive behavior.2 However, learning about addiction in an academic setting is different from experiencing it firsthand as the child of an addicted parent.
Inevitably, addiction will affect an individual’s behavior. When the addict is also a parent, his or her child may witness unusual behaviors. Due to the increased exposure of children to substance abuse education, the child may recognize the signs of addiction. If there are indications that a parent is suffering from a substance abuse problem, the crucial first step is to find out more about addiction. In particular, it’s crucial to learn more about addiction as a disease, how it affects the brain, why people turn to substance abuse and some of the behaviors that can result from this physiological affliction.
Don’t Assume Blame for a Parent’s Addiction
Blame is defined as the responsibility attributed to someone or something for an unfortunate event. As curious human beings, we have an innate tendency to look for the cause of every effect. When something unpleasant happens, we cope by investigating how or why it occurred.3 Although blame attempts to assign fault to someone else, blame can also be self-imposed. This results in unwanted feelings of guilt and shame.
Children often blame themselves for family dysfunction with the most common example being divorce. This is due to the egocentric nature of youth and their magnified sense of importance. This results in the belief that they’re at the center of anything that happens around them.4 A similar situation occurs when a parent is addicted to alcohol or drugs. A child may feel that his or her behavior has driven the parent to addiction. In fact, an addicted parent often acts irrationally and may cultivate these feelings as a form of manipulation so the child will maintain secrecy about the addiction.5 However, a child should never be faulted for a family member’s addiction.
Open a Line of Communication
After developing a greater understanding of the disease, a child may feel compelled to express concern directly to the addicted parent. However, the parent may be unwilling to cooperate. Addressing alcoholism is generally regarded as being easier than confronting a drug related issue. Most addicts default to denying the problem rather than admitting it. This stems from the suspicion that admitting a problem would result in a loss of their child’s respect or love. With this in mind, approaching the conversation without specifically mentioning the substance abuse problem may yield the most success. This demonstrates that that the child is aware something is wrong and is concerned and eager to help.
Reach Out to Other Loved Ones for Help
Beyond expressing love and concern for a parent, there are few resources available to a child interested in personally intervening. However, reaching out to other family members for support and assistance is a practical solution. Staging an intervention as a united family may provide the necessary motivation for the addict to seek help.
The purpose of an intervention is to encourage the addict to seek treatment. Another function of an intervention is mending damage that may have occurred in the family’s relationships.6 Therefore, an intervention is an important healing process for both the addict and his or her family. Additionally, staging an intervention that includes extended family could reduce the addict’s reluctance to admit a problem. Being confronted by a number of concerned family members may encourage the individual to be transparent about the situation at hand.
Finding Help for Opiate Abuse
Opiates have quickly become one of the most commonly abused substances in the U.S. If you suspect a loved one may be suffering from an opioid addiction, our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day to help. Call us, and we can help your loved one begin the journey to a life of lasting recovery.
Written by Dane O’Leary