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How Addiction Affects Children

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The amount of research available on addiction is staggering, so much so that we now know how addiction affects children. If you’re a parent who is struggling with addiction, one of the most difficult aspects of recovery may be facing the effects of your substance abuse on your children.

Addiction impacts the whole family, and children are especially vulnerable to the damaging effects of drug or alcohol abuse. Children who live with an addicted parent are significantly more likely to battle substance abuse later in life. With treatment, it’s possible to break this cycle of addiction and create a more stable home environment for your children.

Emotional, Developmental and Academic Problems

Children of all ages suffer when a parent is struggling with addiction. Even if an addicted parent is physically present, an emotional or psychological absence is inevitable when substance abuse exists. Children express their feelings in different ways, but most children of addicted parents experience feelings of confusion, anxiety, anger and fear.

Studies have shown that children who grow up with addiction in the home are more likely to suffer from:

  • Mental illness
  • Physical illness
  • Learning difficulties and performance problems at school
  • Neglect
  • Abuse

Many children of addicted parents (including adolescents) develop an intense distrust of authority figures because they’ve experienced so much disappointment from their parents. It’s important to remember that even the most distressing behavior from a child in these circumstances is simply a response to the chaos of their environment.

When Children Become Caregivers

As children grow up in a home with an addicted parent, they begin to realize that their parent cannot properly care for them. The chaos and lack of structure in a home ravaged by addiction can create a powerful feeling of insecurity in children.

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Children often compensate for these circumstances by taking on a caregiver role within the family; their caregiving behavior tends to extend to both their parents and their younger siblings. This phenomenon is known as “parentification”. Parentified children often suffer from anxiety and feel responsible for controlling their parents’ use of drugs or alcohol. In some cases, these feelings stem from parents blaming their children for their substance abuse.

A Cycle of Addiction

Adolescents whose parents have a substance abuse disorder are more likely to develop a similar disorder themselves. These young adults may mimic the behavior they grew up seeing in their families, including the abuse of drugs or alcohol.

Children of substance abusers often witness or are victims of violence in the home, and substance abuse may be a way of coping with the traumatic events of their past. The longer that children are exposed to parental addiction in their home, the more serious the ramifications may be for their well-being and development.

It’s clear that addiction affects every member of a family, and children are often the hardest hit by a parent’s substance abuse. This truth may be painful, but it may also give you the strength you need to choose a different path.

You can break free from the disease of addiction and reclaim your relationship with your children. Call us today – help is available, and our trained addiction counselors are ready to answer your questions and provide information on our treatment programs.

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