One of the sacred responsibilities of being a caregiver—especially a parent—is the commitment to protecting children. However, a parent addicted to drugs or alcohol cannot fulfill this promise. Children need love and support, but addiction sabotages that dynamic. In other words, substance abuse impacts far more than just the addict.
Right now, in the U.S., at least 20 percent of children live with a parent struggling with substance abuse. Such adults are simply unable to be the parents their children need. As a result, these children can suffer immensely—mentally, emotionally, and physically.
1. Mental Impact
The mental distress frequently caused by being raised by an addicted parent covers a lot of ground. For example, the affected child may:
- Not develop healthy communication skills
- Struggle in school both academically and socially (including truancy)
- Display insecurity and low self-esteem
- Be more likely to experiment with drugs and/or alcohol themselves
From a sadly ironic angle, such children are often viewed as needing intervention. They wind up being medicated, thus adding to the number of substances impacting the family.
2. Emotional Impact
Add to all the mental strain listed above; parental substance abuse deprives children of critical emotional support. An addicted parent is primarily focused on their own needs—especially getting that next high. Their children, as a result, are more at risk for:
- Becoming socially detached and isolated
- Having trust issues
- Living in shame over their parents’ behavior
- Developing a lack of empathy and compassion
- Clinical depression (from not being nurtured, supported, loved, and made to feel safe)
These issues have the potential to carry over well into adulthood. Trust issues, for example, can hamper any adult’s efforts relating to relationships, jobs, and social life. The inherent guilt caused by having an addicted parent can become a huge obstacle later in life because you were raised in an environment without structure.
3. Physical Impact
The toll also includes physical outcomes—even before the child is born. A mother addicted during pregnancy puts her unborn child in danger of a wide range of mental disorders (e.g., attention problems). But also, physical defects can include stunted growth and organ malformation. Other substance abuse-related parenting issues include:
Children missing out on basic healthcare, dental care, check-ups, and so on. This is because the parent is not focused on much else besides feeding (and hiding) their addiction. Also, since drugs and alcohol are not cheap, such parents may lack the money to get their children quality healthcare.
In addition, children of addicted parents run a much higher risk of sexual or physical abuse along with physical issues like ulcers, migraines, and asthma. All of this—in combination with the other two categories above—can lead to depression and suicidal ideation.
Stop the Cycle
Parental substance abuse is often part of an insidious cycle. Even if they try to avoid it, families can pass down certain tendencies in both a cultural and genetic sense. The good news, however, is that you can definitely short-circuit this cycle. You can be the generation that puts a halt to the damage. It will take intense work, but the resources are available to you.
A great starting point is to connect with a therapist with experience in substance abuse issues. Such a practitioner can guide you along the way with the many steps needed to be taken. You must, of course, take urgent and serious steps toward recovery. But both you and your children will need steady support to heal from the fallout.
If any of the above feels familiar, let’s connect and talk very soon