A Guide for Children of Addicts

When a parent struggles with addiction, children struggle too. You may feel guilty, responsible or angry about a parent’s drug use. You may feel sad or lonely. You may turn to drugs or alcohol yourself. These are normal reactions. However, they aren’t your only choices for responding to drug use. You can turn a parent’s addiction into an opportunity for growth and healing for everyone involved.

Sad black girl on floor

Addiction and Families

First know that if you come from a family facing addiction concerns, you aren’t alone. Psych Central reveals, “More than 28 million Americans have seen at least one parent suffer alcohol’s serious adverse effects…More than 78 million Americans, or 43 percent of the adult population, has been exposed to alcoholism in the family.”1 Although your specific story is unique, your situation is not. You will find support and understanding in the most expected, and unexpected, places. This is why you shouldn’t hesitate to speak up and ask for advice and help.

First Steps to Getting Help

So, what do you do if you are the child of an addict or worried about your own or a loved one’s addiction? Take steps to get help as soon as possible. Learn to recognize substance abuse and addiction. Some signs and symptoms include the following:

Physical signs

  • Bloodshot eyes, dilated or shrunken pupils
  • Sudden weight fluctuations or changes in appetite
  • Disturbed sleep patterns
  • Lack of good grooming
  • Odd odors on their breath, clothing or body
  • Poor coordination, tremors or slurring when speaking

Behavioral signs

  • Skipping out on work
  • Needing more money that can be accounted for; asking for loans
  • Suspicious or secretive demeanor/activities
  • Abrupt change in who they spend time with, the things they do and the places they go
  • Legal troubles, increasing conflict with others

Psychological signs

  • Attitude or personality changes that cannot be explained
  • Abrupt outbursts, mood liability and heightened irritability
  • Agitated behavior, hyper or elated
  • Lacking motivation, seeming “zoned out” or showing disinterest in things once enjoyed
  • Anxiety, paranoia, unexplained fear

A parent doesn’t have to have all these signs of addiction. A few should be enough to raise red flags, to get you to start asking questions and thinking about your options. A parent doesn’t have to fit the stereotypical image of an addict to still struggle with this serious health concern. He or she doesn’t have to fit that stereotype to have an impact on the health and wellness of children and family as a whole. Addicted parents are still loving parents. They may still hold good jobs, be responsible and do their best to take care of their children. They also may not. If you suspect drugs or alcohol may be a problem in a parent’s life, don’t write off your suspicions. Look for signs of addiction. Untreated substance abuse gets worse over time. So, don’t wait to ask a professional for help assessing the situation. Begin to change the situation — for the better!

Reasons to Get Help

So who needs help when a parent is addicted? It turns out the whole family benefits from treatment. Yes, you too. Addiction impacts your quality of life, even if you’ve never picked up a drug or drink! By changing the present, you change your future or the future of a child. Children from addicted homes lack positive role models. They may not have a stable home life or a way to learn how to have healthy relationships and healthy coping skills.

Other effects of addiction may not happen until much later in life, as Cleveland.com explains: “Some of the effects can be immediate and severe.Other consequences don’t kick in until much later: Depression and anxiety may seem unrelated to mom’s drinking when they set in in your 40s. Children of alcoholics are much more likely to be victims of trauma, to grow up to be addicts, to marry addicts, to have chronic diseases like obesity, and to need psychological counseling.”2 Untreated addiction creates a cycle of harm. Getting help creates opportunities for everyone to find a better, healthier life.

How to Find Help and Support

No matter the situation, it’s hard for a parent to ask for help. He or she may be in denial, may be worried about losing custody or may simply not know how to reach out. If one or both of your parents struggle with addiction, or if you are a parent worried about your child, know that there is hope and freedom. You can learn how to approach addiction and its effects in a healthy, positive way.

Addiction is treatable. It’s effects on family are treatable too. You can find healing for yourself, and you can work toward finding wellness for the family as a whole. Call Michael’s House to learn how you can take action for yourself, for a child and for the family. We are here to help and guide you every step of the way.


Sources

1 Gold, Mark. “Children of Alcoholics.” Psych Central. 17 Jul. 2016.

2 Zeltner, Brie. “Children of Alcoholics Face Increased Addiction Risk, Other Health Problems.” The Plain Dealer. 18 Sep. 2012.

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