Growing up with a parent who’s an addict can shape a person’s life in just about every way. Many times, the child of an addict can grow up to feel they never had a true childhood– or perhaps they carried on the unhealthy habits they saw their parent(s) carry out throughout their upbringing. Luckily, not all adult children of addicts end up becoming addicts themselves. However, witnessing addiction and the effects along with it can have a profound impact personally, emotionally, and relationally unless otherwise addressed.
Many times, someone who is living in their own addiction finds it reasonable to think drug or alcohol abuse only affects them. But in reality, addiction affects the entire family unit and even beyond, sometimes stemming to affect the whole community. The ones who are especially affected by addiction in the family are the romantic partners and children.
Addiction from a Child’s View
Kids tend to look up to their parents or elders automatically. Even if the parent acts out negatively, generally, young children crave love and approval from the parent(s)– even if addiction is present. An alcoholic parent can negatively impact their children for years and even an entire lifetime.
Living with an addict can be dangerous, depending on how severe the addiction is! The damages caused by continual abuse of alcohol or drugs can affect or even traumatize family members. A child in a home with addicts can rate high on the scale of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) which can result in a failure to develop properly. Often, children with addicted parents experience some type of abuse. This could include physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, or even abandonment.
Continuing the Cycle
To no surprise, being raised with a lack of a consistently loving, supportive trust toward the parent can result in children of addicted parents to turn to unhealthy coping methods. The children themselves might even develop addictive traits to drugs or alcohol early on in their teen or adult years. Some might end up in abusive relationships with others, feel low self esteem, self-sabotage, or abusive themselves in other ways.
If the substance abuse of one or both parents is severe to the point of total abandonment, the child may end up having to leave their home to turn to other family members, foster families, or social workers.
How Does Addiction Affect a Child of an Addict?
Mentally & Emotionally
Addiction affects children mainly through psychological influences. Children of addicted parents might not fully understand what is going on with their parent who is using or abusing substances. An alcoholic parent, for example, might be okay at hiding their alcohol use at first when the child is young but may resort to careless drinking or blacking out regularly as the child matures.
This example can affect a child’s mental health and emotions by the time they grow up. They might lack trust, confidence in self or others, or security in social situations. They might lash out in anger and not know how to express it even through adulthood.
Growing up around drug addiction can cause all types of psychological struggles, including:
- Anxiety disorders
- Feelings of social inadequacy
- Panic disorders
- Cognitive dysfunctions
Case studies show that adult children of addicted parents tend to show more antisocial behaviors. Many go on to develop an addiction themselves.
Because there is often chronic stress in a child when they live in an unstable household, there can be several major biological impacts. Stress has a direct effect on both mind and body. Constant stress can prevent the brain from regulating emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Often, children of addicts never learn to cope with their stress or pain in healthy ways. Thus, chronic stress can also lead to anxiety and mood disorders which can then lead to heightened destructive behaviors.
Effects on Personal Relationships
Attachment styles can run askew after being raised by addicted parents. Insecure attachment, which means a fear of abandonment or being unloved, can be common in adult children of addicted parents. Unhealthy attachment styles are what cause abusive relationships, unhealthy codependencies, and constant drama within commitments.
We all have our issues, of course. One common theme of general childhood trauma, including addiction in the family, include:
- Overly critical of self and others
- Suppressed opinions, feelings, and fears
- Avoidance of intimacy or physical touch
- Lack of empathy toward others
- Major sensitivity to the feelings of others to the point of major codependency
- Fluctuating between neediness and having a wall up (not letting anyone get close emotionally)
- Extremely stress in basic life changes
- Avoids change or opportunity
- Extreme shame, guilt, or helplessness
- Unable to admit to personal mistakes; blaming everyone for accidents or faults
- Controlling behavior
- Acting out in emotional or physical abuse
- Highly unpredictable behaviors
- Inability to maintain healthy or long-lasting relationships
- Personality disorders
- Attention-deficit disorders
- Addictive personality
- Lack of stable personal boundaries (can’t say “no”)
So How Can a Child of an Addict Recover?
The first step toward recovery as a child of an addict is to realize the problem. If you face many or all of the traits that hinder your personal relationships, it’s important to first and foremost simply recognize it. When you become aware of your struggles, you can find resources to heal from them.
Another thing to remember is that you are not alone. There are many average people and professionals in the world who know exactly what it feels like to have grown up with an addiction in the family.
After the realization forms and a willingness to overcome past pain remains, there are many options!
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Psychotherapy are excellent sources of working through past childhood conflicts that affect you into adulthood. Individual therapy helps address underlying, subconscious patterns that were developed as a result of unhealthy coping methods or beliefs formed around your identity. Group therapy is helpful, too, as you can relate to others who have gone through similar experiences.
Although your healing process is personal to you, being part of a support group can take a huge weight off your shoulders. Support groups are a safe, confidential space to share any thoughts, frustrations, victories, or confusions you wish to share through your recovery. There are specific support groups like Al-Anon for loved ones or children of addicts. You can make friends, get a mentor, and breathe in a loving environment with emotional support.
Focusing on your self-development can absolutely boost your healing, too. The ways you go about personal development depends on your preferences, but some examples are:
- Self-help books
- Motivational Talks/Podcasts
- Healthy, consistent meals
- Doing a hobby you enjoy
- Getting outside regularly
- Talking, walking, and learning
- Surrounding yourself with stable friends who care
Develop Positive Relationships
Having a foundation of positive friendships and social circles are key to a fulfilling life. Hanging out with people you connect with and care about is crucial for rewriting the story of former toxic relationships.
Feel Empowered: Be the One To Break the Cycle
Lastly, if you’re an adult child of an addict and you want to recover, remember this: the fact that you want to overcome your painful childhood means you’re already on your way to breaking the cycle. Addiction can end with you. Feel empowered that you have it in you to seek out a new way of living in healthy, functional habits. Heal the pain and stand strong through life so you can share your story which may inspire others to heal, too.
If you or a loved one needs help, call us at 949-625-4019.