How Addiction Affects Children

People who are addicted to alcohol or drugs often become so entrenched in their illness that they fail to realize how their addiction impacts the lives of everybody who cares about them. All too often, it’s children that pay the highest price, and the damage is staggering when one considers that at least 11 million children in the United States live with at least one addicted parent. Addiction is also on the rise in Europe and most other countries around the world.

Addiction of a parent affects children even if the parent isn’t abusive or neglectful, or if the child no longer lives with the addicted parent. The effects carry over into adulthood and can affect the child for an entire lifetime. Parents who want to know more about the effects of addiction on children should consider the following:

  • Children of addicted parents often live in constant fear. They may be afraid of losing a parent through divorce, violence, incarceration, accident, illness or death.
  • Many children experience crippling guilt and a belief that the addiction is their fault. Some overcompensate by becoming perfectionists or high achievers in an attempt to make things better, or to feel some sense of control over their lives.
  • Parental inconsistencies make it difficult for kids to experience a normal childhood. Daily life is chaotic and confusing. Boundaries are fluid and not clearly defined, and rules are unpredictable and may change from one minute to the next.
  • Children of addicted parents often tend to perform poorly in school, and in some cases display marked developmental impairment that makes it more difficult for a child to learn.
  • Moreover, academic performance is impacted when life is erratic and worry and tension at home make it difficult to concentrate. Study times are undependable, bedtimes may be nonexistent.
  • Children of alcoholics are at higher risk of emotional and mental problems, including anxiety and depression. They are also more likely to attempt suicide.
  • Physical and sexual abuse are more common when a parent is addicted.
  • Children of addicted parents are more likely to get in trouble with the law or engage in risky sexual behavior. Some children may think that “acting out” is the only way to get attention from the addicted parent.
  • Some children become masters in covering up for the addicted parents and engage in a facade of normalcy, which does not exist but is upheld for the outside world.
  • Too often, addiction is passed from generation to generation; children of an addicted parent are three to four times more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs than children in non-addicted families.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, children of alcoholics rarely seek help voluntarily because they are fearful or embarrassed, or more often – because of the overriding secrecy and denial of the family. This means that children continue to live chaotic, fearful lives unless a parent enters addiction treatment. However, for a child growing up in an addicted family, treatment offers the greatest hope for breaking this destructive cycle and to lead a good life.
It’s extremely difficult for an addicted person to break through layers of denial, and in some cases, an intervention may be required. In some cases, awareness of addiction on children is the stimulus that prompts parents to seek treatment voluntarily.

Rebuilding damaged families is not easy and lasting change doesn’t occur overnight. However, it’s never too late to turn things around and the sooner one starts, the better it will be for all, child and family. We offer quality drug and alcohol rehab that can help repair the damage and get the family life onto a healthier track.

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