People who abuse drugs deal with a whole host of challenges, including health problems, mental illness, and difficulty meeting obligations. However, they are not the only ones affected. Parental substance abuse can have a significant impact on children. Today on the blog, we will provide some important facts for (and about) adult children of drug addicted parents.
Adult Children of Drug Addicted Parents
According to the National Surveys on Drug Use and Health, about 1 in 8 children under the age of 17 lived in a household with at least one parent who had a substance use disorder. That’s a total of 8.7 million young people. Of these, just over two million lived in a home with a parent addicted to illicit drugs.
A child whose parent is addicted will undoubtably experience the world differently from their peers. They may deal with uncertainty, anxiety, and secret-keeping due to their parent’s activity in the home. Unfortunately, the challenges presented by addicted parents don’t just disappear when a child grows up and leaves the nest.
How do the effects of a chaotic childhood linger? They tend to come up in several ways, often when a person is least expecting it. Their home life may have been turbulent and uncertain in their younger years, for example. Now, as adults, they struggle to function in periods of calm and may create their own chaos for the sake of normalcy. Self-sabotage, low self-esteem, and addiction are all key risks for those whose parents misused drugs.
Common Traits for Children of Addicts
There are a few traits which are common to children of alcoholics – these were outlined in Janet Woititz’s 1983 Adult Children of Alcoholics. While the list itself refers to alcohol, young people whose parents were addicted to hard drugs have been found to exhibit similar traits.
Children of addicts…
Feel isolated and afraid of people – especially those in authority – because they are used to keeping secrets. They may still subconsciously fear saying the wrong thing to the wrong person.
Often become people-pleasers. They seek approval from others since it was probably not offered in the home. They might willingly cast their identities aside for approval.
Are fearful of negative reactions. Even if someone is not physically aggressive to the children of drug addicted parents, these individuals may still fear anger or critique.
Harshly judge themselves, leading to low self-esteem.
Don’t know what’s normal. They instead try to guess, which may result in unrealistic expectations.
May struggle with healthy relationships, especially if they have never seen one modelled.
Overreact to change and loss of control. Chaotic situations in youth can result in personalities which center around perfectionism and total control.
Feel different from others, perhaps even adopting a victim mentality as a result of their treatment.
Are more likely to abuse substances themselves later in life or marry someone who does.
Family Cycles of Substance Abuse
That last trait is of particular concern for healthcare experts and treatment providers alike. It’s common for young people who have seen their parents use drugs to repeat the same cycle, even if they don’t want to. In fact, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) recognizes family history as the single most reliable indicator of drug addiction.
While genetics themselves are responsible for a significant amount of one’s risk, other family-related risk factors can play a significant role. These include family dysfunction, parental neglect, a parent’s mental illness, or living in a home with someone who misuses alcohol or drugs.
With all of these factors considered, children of addicted parents are eight times more likely to develop an addiction than the general population.
Fortunately, our genes – and family history – are not our destiny. Help is available for children of addicts.
How Children of Drug Addicted Parents Can Break the Cycle
It is fully possible to overcome the past and create a better future. First, researchers who specialize in childhood trauma recommend beginning with therapy. These can be individual sessions, where you speak with a therapist one-on-one, and group settings, where you can compare notes with others who have similar experiences. Al-Anon meetings are another favorite choice.
These resources all have two things in common: education and support. The more you know about addiction, the better prepared you will be to identify its signs (and its role) in your life. Then, you will be able to seek support and solace with others who understand what you have gone through. We recover together.
Lakeside-Milam Recovery Centers offers the full continuum of care, from withdrawal management to mental health services. We also provide robust family support for those whose parents are in our care. Contact us for more information about addiction resources in Washington State.