Empowering Children Growing up in Addicted Homes

Addiction and substance abuse are tremendous problems that affect the entire family – including the youngest members. Addiction happens in the best of families and no family is immune.

The number of children affected by addiction is staggering: consider that in the United States, two babies are born to addicted parents every second of every day. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), estimates that one-quarter of American children grow up in homes where substance abuse is present.

Kids who grow up in addicted homes are twice as likely to develop their own addictive disorders. They are also more likely to experience problems at school, low self-esteem, behavioral and emotional problems, depression, anxiety and stress-related physical illnesses.

Kids often turn to a relative, family friend, caring neighbor, or other trusted adult who has expressed concern about the child’s situation. The good news is that one stable, caring adult can make a significant difference in the trajectory of a child’s life.

How Adults can Help

If you’re worried about a child growing up in an addicted home, you don’t need to be a professional counselor or an expert on addiction. In fact, you don’t need any special skills at all; you just need to care. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t be afraid to reach out to a child. Many people hesitate to approach a child about addiction in the family for fear of making things worse, but remember: there’s a good chance you can make the child’s life much better.
  • Take time to learn a few basic facts about addiction. Knowledge will help you understand what’s happening in the child’s home.
  • Explain to the child that addiction is an illness. He didn’t cause it and he can’t make it better. Provide age-appropriate information that will help kids understand what their parents are dealing with.
  • Be forthright and don’t sugarcoat the issues; even young children can sense when an adult isn’t being truthful.
  • Be patient while the child learns to trust you. Remember, children growing up in addicted homes are accustomed to harsh words and broken promises.
  • Assure the child that she isn’t alone. Most families struggle with their own set of issues, and millions of kids live in addicted families.
  • Have fun. Children who grow up with addiction face serious issues every day and are often required to accept responsibility beyond their years. A few minutes of silliness and laughter can lighten the load for kids who carry the weight of the world on their shoulders.
  • If you live far away, remember that you can still help. Write letters, send cards, make phone calls.
  • Be calm. Children of addicted families live in a constant state of fear, chaos and worry. You can provide a bit of much-needed stability.
  • Listen without judgment or criticism. Give the child your full attention, even for just 10 or 15 minutes. Ask questions and encourage the child to discuss their concerns.
  • Provide a list of resources in your area. For example, kids in the United States can call organizations such as the National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACOA). Al-Anon and Alateen have offices and informational services in countries around the world.
  • If the situation in the family has deteriorated beyond your ability to help, or if you’re concerned about the child’s safety and well-being, tell somebody such as a trusted teacher or counselor.

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