A recent Harvard study found that 1 in 5 American children are living in a home with parental addiction.
It can be difficult or nearly impossible for a child to know how to deal with drug addicted parents. Adults who grew up in a home with addiction struggle to do this as well.
We have compiled this guide to help children or adults know what to do if their parents are fighting substance abuse. It can also be used by individuals inside or outside of the family who want to help.
Keep reading below to learn about the warning signs, how to help children with parents who are addicts, and how to set boundaries with an addicted parent.
Warning Signs of a Substance Abuse Disorder
The first step is knowing the warning signs of addiction. It doesn’t matter whether your parents are abusing alcohol, prescription medications, or illegal drugs. Addicts typically behave in the same manner.
Here are some basic signs of drug addiction:
- Continuing to take drugs after advised to do so
- Need more drugs to get the same effect
- Not taking the drug makes you feel sick
- Hiding your drug use from family or friends
- You can’t stop taking the drug, even if you want to
- You lose interest in other things
It’s important to note there are many other signs. One or two of these alone may not be enough to determine your parent is an addict, but the more you observe the more likely it is.
They will need to begin a medical detox program as soon as possible to safely end the dependence.
What Children of Addicted Parents May Experience
Addiction doesn’t just hurt parents in a family. There are psychological effects that show up in children.
The study also found children with addicted parents are three times more likely to be physically, sexually, or emotionally abused.
Some of the common impacts on children include:
- Poor academic performance
- Negative behavior
- Low self-esteem
- Anxiety or depression
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Situations involving addiction vary widely but in each case, the child is more likely to experience physical or psychological damage from an addicted parent.
The goal should not only be to help the parent overcome addiction but also to work with children to prevent any long-term damage.
Tips on Helping Children Deal With Addicted Parents
One question we get is how to help children deal with parents struggling through addiction? The child can’t solve the problem but there are some things they can do to cope.
First of all, if their home situation can get physically abusive, encourage a child to decide on a safe place to go when needed.
It would also help to encourage them to journal their feelings and try to find activities that make them feel confident.
We found six tips to help a child with substance abuse in the home:
- Just talk to them and be someone who listens
- Help kids to separate the parent from the behavior
- Stress that it’s not their fault
- Try to figure out why a child is exhibiting poor behavior
- Show them healthy ways to process emotion
- Encourage kids to be silly sometimes
Often the effects of substance abuse in the home are worse on children. Unfortunately, there is only so much you can do as an adult on the outside looking in, but every little bit helps.
Understanding the Signs of Codependency
What happens when no interventions are made and a child grows up with a parent who never overcomes their addiction? Oftentimes, they develop a psychological disorder called codependency.
Out of a love for their parents, children will try to take care of them and solve their problems. A sort of role reversal takes place where the child is now the one doing the parenting. And this can continue in other relationships for the rest of their life.
According to research, emotional abuse and neglect put people at a higher risk for developing codependence.
Adult children of addicted parents will also see this develop in romantic relationships later in life. Rather than have a balanced relationship where both partners are having their needs met, one person is taking far more than they give.
This cycle can be psychologically damaging but it’s possible to overcome through therapy.
How To Deal With Drug-Addicted Parents as an Adult
Now that we’ve covered how to help children through addiction in the family, how should an adult deal with a parent who is having a problem? The techniques to deal with addiction are the same whether it’s a family member or a person you just met.
At first, you should try to understand their problem but not enable their addiction. Here are some ways to ensure you don’t do that:
- Make sure everyone in the family is safe from the addict
- Have an emergency plan for if their behavior becomes too much to manage
- Don’t let them have any access to money
- Set clear boundaries and expectations for them
- Encourage them to seek addiction treatment
- Take care of yourself and consider a support group
It may feel cold to treat a loved one this way, but enabling their behavior will only make it worse in the end. You want to stop them from hurting themselves or others and get them to treatment as soon as possible.
Does Your Parent Need Professional Help?
It’s not easy knowing how to deal with drug-addicted parents. For one, you aren’t a trained counselor, and secondly, there are many emotions involved that prevent you from being truly objective.
The best thing to do is reach out to an addiction center like the Southern California Sunrise Recovery Center. We use scientifically-proven techniques and evidence-based holistic methods to help patients through the process of overcoming addiction.
We offer in-patient and out-patient treatment for drugs or alcohol. Our center also accepts all major forms of insurance.
Contact us now to find out how we can help you or someone you love to take their life back.