Drug and alcohol abuse affects more than the individual. Those closest to the addict often suffer just as much – or possibly, even MORE. In a very real way, they are the victims of someone else’s addiction.
This is especially true in the case of the young children of substance abusers, because they lack the life experience and emotional maturity to separate themselves from their parents’ disease. Just to survive, they learn warped lessons about life and relationships, and this dysfunction can follow them for the rest of their life.
For example, Adult Children of Alcoholics (COAs) are at a more than doubled risk of marrying an alcoholic.
The Child Becomes a Surrogate Parent
For the most part, drug-addicted parents are delinquent in many of their parental responsibilities. Because they are so focused on the next drink or the next high, they can’t provide the teaching, comforting, and nurturing that their children need.
Younger children can become confused about what a “healthy” parent’s role is. This will often times be the example that they unconsciously follow when they themselves become parents.
Older children are often pressed into service as, in essence, the only “parent” their younger siblings have. Because they have to care for their younger brothers or sisters, they are forced to grow up far too quickly. And their emotional growth is stunted because they missed out on so many important childhood experiences.
Blurred Boundaries Obscure Proper Behaviors
When the parent is absent due to substance use, the enforcement of expectations, rules of acceptable behavior, and the natural consequences for inappropriate behavior are inconsistent at best and completely neglected at worst.
Children NEED structure to feel safe and develop properly, but this is something often lacking in a household impacted by addiction. In an attempt to test the limits of what is “right” and what is “wrong”, the children of substance abusers will frequently “act out” at school or home to get the attention and interaction that they crave.
They Learn How to Cope in an Unhealthy Way
When they see their parents dealing with negative emotions like sadness, anger, stress, or painful memories by drinking or using drugs, young children are taught unhealthy coping mechanisms. As they get older, they may:
- Take their anger out on others
- Vandalize property
- Turn to alcohol or drugs – COAs have a QUADRUPLED risk of alcoholism.
Your children’s future starts with YOU. If you’re worried about the effect that your substance use disorder is having on your family, contact Lasting Recovery outpatient rehab in San Diego for help.