Family and addiction are often difficult topics to discuss. Addiction doesn’t just hurt those abusing, it can seriously affect everyone around them, especially their children. One of the long-term effects of growing up in a home where addiction and substance abuse are present is trauma- specifically, familial trauma. This trauma affects everyone differently and to varying degrees, just as everyone’s experience with addiction is different.
Children need basic stability, trust and predictability in their home life in order to develop emotionally. Unfortunately, these are the very things that tend to be absent in households where at least one family member is an addict. This leaves children struggling to deal with some unusual stresses that they aren’t yet emotionally or psychologically prepared to handle. The disruptions and upheavals can be very frightening, and this fear can alter the child’s mental development.
Children simply aren’t developmentally mature enough to rationally process the kinds of fear and chaos that they may be facing in a family addiction setting. For one, until they are four years old, the child’s hippocampus isn’t sufficiently developed, which means they can’t tell if a stimulus is legitimately threatening or not. Before they are eleven, their undeveloped prefrontal cortex leaves them unable to understand their fears and need someone else, usually a parent, to help them. Unfortunately, many children in homes where addiction is present have no access to such care. This has debilitating long-term effects.
As they grow up, these children often struggle with the close relationships in their lives. They may feel hyper-vigilant, untrusting and always on edge. After all, their young brains had been trained to be in a state of fight or flight due to the unpredictability of their parent’s behavior and the instability of their normal routines. They may self-medicate and begin their own abuse of substances. This pattern which was formed early in their life is then repeated in the next generation, putting their own children at risk for the same trauma they endured.
Family Therapy and Resilience
Not all children who grow up in addicted family homes fail to thrive in adulthood. Some children prove to be resilient and are able to overcome their traumatic childhood. How do they do this?
- One key component that helps these children to not only cope, but also thrive is that they have strong, close relationships with at least one other person in their family, perhaps a grandparent or an aunt or uncle. This close bond with another adult helps to keep them grounded and feeling secure and loved.
- Another factor that can help children overcome their childhood trauma is their ability to adapt and be resourceful – two skills that can be strengthened in family therapy. These children are often able to develop some truly unusual personal strengths and abilities in the face of adversity.
- Children who have the support of their faith community can also prove to be resilient, as they may have a supportive environment that welcomes them and their families. These communities can help the family to rebuild lost trust and to learn how to relate in a healthy way. They learn how to reach out for help- and how to accept it. This structure can help sustain a family through its period of recovery and rebuilding.
Studies have shown that children of addicts are four times more likely to become addicts themselves. These statistics don’t even include addictions that may show up later in their lives, such as food, gambling, sex or work.
Growing up as a child of substance abusers or addicts may be difficult but the trauma can be managed if family therapy and support are actively sought and taken seriously by each member of the family unit.
If you or someone you love is suffering from the effects of opiate addiction, substance abuse or any other type of addiction, please call us today. Our addiction treatment counselors can help you deal with the physical, emotional and psychological consequences of drug and alcohol abuse. Programs for substance abuse are effective, safe and have helped many people reclaim their lives. Destination Hope is a full-service drug, alcohol and dual diagnosis treatment facility in Florida for men and women suffering from substance abuse and mental health issues.