When a loved one suffers from addiction, it can take a toll on your life as much as the addict’s life. This is especially true if that loved one is an immediate family member. The people within a family who addiction arguably affects the most are the children of addicts. This is particularly true if the children of addicts are young and still developing. It’s hard to cope as the child of an addict, whether young or old. Thus, to make things easier on you, here is a guide filled with information and tools that can help you not only improve the health and well-being of your addicted parent, but also the health and well-being of yourself as well.
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Things to Remember As Children of Addicts
As children of addicts, it’s important to remember that addiction is a disease. This is because chronic substance use causes changes in the chemistry of an addict’s brain. As a result, the brains of addicts become rewired overtime. This causes addicts to exhibit poor judgment and decision making, a lack of self-control, and abnormal behavior choices.
Because the mind of an addict becomes rewired, quitting substances is more difficult than it appears. By the time someone develops an addiction, his or her brain is dependent on drugs or alcohol to function. Thus, when addicts minimize or discontinue their use of substances, they can experience severe withdrawal symptoms that are unbearable. The fear of experiencing such withdrawal symptoms often deter addicts from wanting to get sober.
Even when an addict does become sober from substances for a while, the disease never completely goes away. Thus, recovering addicts must be proactive on a day to day basis about maintaining their sobriety. Otherwise, recovering addicts can easily relapse.
Therefore, as much as you might despise your parent for behaving the way that he or she does and not getting sober, take a deep breath and remember that your parent is suffering from an actual disease. To help your parent overcome his or her addiction, it will take time, just like it’ll take time for you to overcome the damage that having a parent that’s an addict has caused in your life.
How Having an Addict Parent Affects the Children of Addicts
When you’re a child of an addict, your life gets turned upside down. If you’re a child or teen, having a parent who’s an addict can cause you to grow up too fast. Having a parent who’s an addict as a child or adolescent can also cause you to develop toxic behavior patterns and coping mechanisms. This is because one of the primary examples of how to act in your life suffered from a toxic disease.
There are certain struggles that many children of addicts go through that few people can understand. Thus, children of addicts must understand what they’ve gone through themselves so that they can treat and manage their own conditions.
Children of addicts often reverse roles with their parents due to their addicted parents’ inability to lead a family. As a result, children of addicts start to take on all of the responsibilities of a parent. This forces these children to grow up too fast.
The role reversal that occurs in children of addicts starts off small. For example, it might start off with the child of an addict cleaning up after his or her addicted parent one day. Over time, though, behaviors like this start to become a pattern. Before you know it, children of addicts are cleaning up after their parents and cooking for their siblings every day. Children of addicts may also get a job at an early age to help their addicted parents pay the bills.
When children start to parent their addicted parent and younger siblings as a child or teenager, it causes emotional scars. Often, children don’t notice these scars until they reach adulthood. As a result, adult children of addicts are often overcome with feelings of anger and resentment towards their addicted parent. Part of the resentment that adult children of addicts feel comes from feeling like their addicted parents stole their childhood.
Children of addicts also tend to struggle with identity, maturity, and self-esteem issues later in life. This is because they didn’t get to go through all the proper phases of social development that children and adolescents normally go through.
Physical and Behavioral Effects of Role Reversal
There are negative physical and behavioral effects that a parenting role reversal can cause on children of addicts as well. Part of the reason why these negative physical and behavioral effects occur is that children of addicts don’t get to go through the proper phases of childhood and adolescence. Another reason for the occurrence of these negative effects is that children of addicts learn poor behavior habits from their addicted parents.
For example, children may exhibit behavioral problems due to learning poor coping mechanisms from their addicted parents. Children of addicts may also develop poor social skills due to not getting to go through normal social experiences. Such poor social skills can cause children to develop low self-esteem and mental illnesses like depression or anxiety.
All of these emotional, mental, and behavioral struggles can also cause children to struggle in school. The combination of these struggles can even cause children of addicts to start to abuse drugs and alcohol to cope. Before you know it, these children end up in situations that cause them to experience more trauma and abuse.
While many children of addicts end up going through the negative effects of role reversal, this isn’t always the case. If children of addicts have a proper support system elsewhere and good resources to turn to, they can make it to adulthood without experiencing many of these effects.
How Children of Addicts Should Handle Having a Parent That Suffers from Addiction
There are certain measures that you can take to minimize the amount of negative effects that you experience as a child of an addict. Some of these key measures are described below.
Seek Out Adult Help Outside of the Home
If you don’t have a proper support system, it’s important that you get one. One way to do that is to seek out adult help outside of the home. If you’re underage, this might seem scary. You may fear that someone will remove your addicted parent’s custody privileges, but this shouldn’t be your concern. Your primary concern should be making sure that you’re getting the support that you need to better the lives of both you and your family.
No one is telling you to make your addicted parent seem like the devil or an unfit parent. All we’re saying is that you should talk to an adult figure that you trust about your family struggles. For example, this adult figure can be a mentor or school counselor.
Whoever it is, another adult can help take the load of responsibility off of you. A trusted adult can also intervene if you’re going through any sort of abuse or help you convince your addicted parent to go to rehab.
Collect Emergency Phone Numbers
Children of addicts should always have a list of emergency contacts that they can call on if their addicted parents start to overdose or go through some other medical emergency. That way, children aren’t left alone to deal with their parents in high-strung, emergency situations. Just make sure to place your emergency contacts list in a safe place. This way, you can turn to it whenever you want.
Keep a List of Safe Places
Speaking of safe places, children of addicts should also keep a list of safe places away from the stress, chaos, or even abuse that happens at home. Examples of safe places include homes of family members or close friends, a teenage center, or a public library.
Surround Yourself with Good Friends
When your home life is non-supportive, it’s important to surround yourself with a supportive group of friends. That way you have your own tribe of people that you can vent to and turn to when stressed. Just make sure that the people in your group of friends are healthy, trustworthy, supportive, and non-toxic.
Participate in Activities That Make You Feel Better About Yourself
Children of addicts often struggle with poor self-esteem. To combat this, all children of addicts should participate in activities or hobbies that make them feel good about themselves. This could be any non-harmful activity or hobby that the child is good at. For example, children of addicts can join a running club, take up the hobby of skateboarding, or join a musical theater group.
Keep a Journal
Keeping a journal can help children of addicts work through their emotions in a healthy manner. Thus, journaling can act as a therapeutic tool. Having a healthy emotional outlet is highly beneficial to children of addicts that need to learn positive coping mechanisms.
Remember It’s Not Your Fault
Children of addicts often carry around a lot of shame about their family situation. This is unhealthy. To help combat these feelings of shame, children of addicts should remind themselves that their parents’ addictions aren’t their fault.
Effects of Being Adult Children of Addicts
The effects of being a child of an addict don’t end when you become an adult. The effects only evolve as you get older. In fact, many children of addicts don’t see the full effects that having a parent that’s an addict has had on them until they reach adulthood.
For example, adults who’ve experienced neglect or abuse due to being the child of an addict experience higher rates of many medical and psychiatric conditions. Some of these medical and psychiatric conditions include alcohol abuse and alcoholism, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease, liver disease, depression, and STDs. Childhood abuse can also lead to higher incidences of poor job performance, financial stress, sexual promiscuity, teen pregnancy, poor academic performance, tobacco abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault, and limited education and professional opportunities as an adult.
How to Handle Being an Adult Child of an Addict
As an adult child of an addict, it’s your responsibility to learn about the relationship between your mental and physical health and past neglect or abuse. It’s also your responsibility to learn ways to overcome these effects and better your life. Some actions that you can take to better your life as an adult child of an addict are listed below:
- Confide in an older adult figure
- Join a support group like Al-Anon or Adult Children of Alcoholics
- Enter a rehab program yourself if you’re now struggling with substance abuse
- Attend therapy or counseling
- Participate in a wellness program at work
- Make an effort to continue your education and/or grow in your career
- Make an effort to improve your financial standing by going over your financial goals with an accountant
- Learn and practice new stress management techniques such as physical exercise, yoga, meditation, or creative or artistic forms of therapy
How to Stage an Intervention as Children of Addicts
Whether you’re a young child or adolescent of someone with an addiction or an adult child of someone with an addiction, the time may come when you’ll need to stage an intervention. To do this, you’ll need to gather other close family members and friends of your addicted parent that he or she respects. You’re also going to need the assistance of a professional interventionist to guide you through the intervention process.
Just make sure that you and the other loved ones of your addicted parent prepare your intervention with a professional interventionist well in advance. Also, make sure that the professional interventionist is there to guide you before and during the actual intervention.
It’s important that your addicted parent is sober during his or her intervention. That way he or she can better take in what you’re saying. It’s also important that you’re clear and direct about what you expect from your addicted parent after the intervention is over. Once you’ve done that, you should suggest rehab centers for your addicted parent to attend.
What to Do After Your Parent Attends Addiction Treatment
Once you convince your addicted parent to attend addiction treatment, you should make sure that your expectations of your parent are clear but not too high. This is because there is still a good chance that your parent may relapse after attending rehab. This is evident in the fact that 85% of recovering addicts end up relapsing at least once.
Thus don’t give up on your parent just because he or she goes through a relapse or replaces one addiction for another. Simply, push your parent to attend aftercare services and therapy and make healthy life choices. This will help your parent maintain sobriety longer.
Harmony Ridge Recovery Center Is Here For the Addict and the Addict’s Family Members
At Harmony Ridge Recovery Center, we understand the impact that addiction can have on the family members of addicts. That’s why we offer family therapy to all of our patients. Some of the other addiction treatment and therapy services that we offer here at Harmony Ridge include detox services, specialized rehab programs for a wide variety of substances, and medication-assisted and holistic addiction treatment.
To learn more about the addiction treatment and therapy services that we offer here at Harmony Ridge Recovery Center, contact us today. Our staff is more than willing to answer any questions you may have.