According to Psychology Today, 1 in 5 children grow up in a home where a parent abuses drugs or alcohol.
They are also 3 times more likely being neglected, physically, and sexually abused.
More than 8 million children live with at least one parent who’s addicted to alcohol or drugs. This number includes 14% of children younger than 2, 12% aged 6 to 11 years old, and 10% of youth between the ages of 12 and 17.
Studies reveal that the children of addicts are more likely to live with a non-parent caregiver or in foster care. Hard-to-manage kids stand the risk of being bounced from caregiver to caregiver. This has especially detrimental to their sense of stability and security.
Alcoholic parents affect he day to day family life, for example., the parent may disappear for days at a time leaving the child to fend for themselves. In instances like this, children may cope with their parent’s alcoholism in unhealthy ways. For example, an older child may take on the role of parenting and care for younger children in the parent’s absence.
Experts estimate that between one-third and two-thirds of all child maltreatment cases involve some level of alcohol abuse or drug addiction.
The difference in rates of abuse and neglect in homes with an addicted parent and those without is astounding. Children with parents who abuse substances are 3 times more likely to be abused, and more than 4 times as likely to be neglected, than those who grow up without an addicted parent.
Adults with substance use disorders are 4.2 times more likely to report neglectful behavior and 2.7 times more likely to report abusive behavior toward their children.
Children who are exposed to an addicted parent may assume the behavior is common and accepted, thinking it is normal. This can lead to internal conflict and confusion when they realize alcohol abuse should not be a normal part of life at home.
Children of addicted parents are more likely to marry into a family with a background of addiction. 3
Parenting is unreliable, inconsistent, and unpredictable. There is never a sense of safety and consistency, allowing children to thrive.
Many learn to become self-reliant and needless to avoid anyone having power over them again. Because an addict’s behavior is erratic and unpredictable, vulnerability and authenticity required for intimate relationships are considered too risky.
Children live in continuous fear and learn to be on guard for signs of danger, creating constant anxiety well into adulthood.
Children with a parent that is an addict tend to take on family roles:
The Adjuster. The adjuster doesn’t complain. Rather than be in charge like the hero, the adjuster tries to fit in and adapt. Thus, as adults, they have difficulty taking charge of their life and pursuing goals.
The Placater. The placater is the most sensitive to others’ feelings and tries to meet others’ emotional needs, but neglects their own. They also must discover their wants and needs and learn to pursue their goals.
The Scapegoat. The scapegoat acts out negative behavior to distract the family from the addict and to express feelings he or she can’t communicate. Some scapegoats turn to addiction, promiscuity, or other acting-out behavior to distract themselves and manage their emotions. When they’re in trouble, it unites the parents around a common problem.
The Lost Child. The lost child is usually a younger child who withdraws into a world of fantasy, music, video games, or the Internet, seeking security in solitude. Their relationships and social skills may necessarily suffer.
The Mascot. Also a younger or youngest child, the mascot manages fear and insecurity by being cute, funny, or coquettish to relieve family tension.
The Hero. The hero is usually the eldest child and most identified with a parental role, often helping with parental duties. Heroes are responsible and self-reliant. They sacrifice and do the right thing to keep calm. They make good leaders, are successful, but often anxious, driven, controlled, and lonely.
Approximately 85 percent of children in foster care in Henderson County, North Carolina, are there because of substance abuse by a parent either as the main or secondary reason, according to Kevin Marino, social work program administrator at the Henderson County Department of Social Services.
Due to a bad home life, children are less likely to do well in school. If they don’t have anyone to support their hard-work and efforts, they are unlikely to try to get good grades. They are more likely to fail classes, be truant, or be expelled.
They are more likely, especially girls in particular, to date or marry someone who is also an addict. This is because their self-worth and locus of control has been skewed, continuing them on an unhealthy path of mistreatment and abuse.
Children who grow up in an unpredictable and volatile home environment are also more likely to have low self-esteem. They may realize they are different from their peers, compare themselves to others and feel inadequate as a result. Children of alcoholics also tend to be overly critical of themselves, which can lead to depression, anxiety, and isolation.
To cope and avoid confrontations with the substance abuser, typically, family members tacitly agree to act as if everything is normal, not make waves, and not mention the substance abuse. Family members deny what they know, feel, and see. This all takes a heavy psychological toll, especially on those most vulnerable, the children. In fact, despite evidence to the contrary, more than half are in denial that they have an addicted parent.
If a child’s alcoholic father or mother created an environment where dishonesty and broken promises were the norm, a child may develop serious trust problems that can hinder their relationships in the future. Due to the emotional complication that comes with a tumultuous, unsupportive family, many children may end up feeling unloved and unimportant. That, paired with abuse, can cause negative feelings to build up and cause depression. The depression can then turn into physical actions, actions such as self-harm or suicidal attempts.
Children of alcoholics may cling to toxic relationships later in life because they have a serious fear of abandonment. This often stems from an alcoholic father or mother who was emotionally or physically unavailable due to their drinking behaviors.
A child exposed to a parent’s drug use may be more likely to exhibit behavioral problems at home and school. These issues can make it difficult for parents, teachers, and other caregivers to manage the child.
When human beings are highly stressed, our muscles experience increased blood flow and we have spurts of adrenaline to enable us to flee for safety or stand and fight. When we can do neither, which is so often the case with children in highly stressful homes, those stress chemicals are left to boil up inside of us and they can cause anything from thinning hair to heart disease.
Children can also develop anxiety-based illnesses due to their parent’s addiction, such as ulcers, asthma, or migraines. When left untreated, these can become severely debilitating.
The physical toll of parental addiction can start from before birth. If the mother is drinking or doing drugs while pregnant, she can severely harm her child, resulting in physical defects, such as growth stunting and organ malformation, or mental disorders, such as attachment or attention disorders.
Studies suggest that children of addicts are eight times more likely to develop an addiction of their own.
Researchers consistently find links between a parent’s substance abuse and a child’s likelihood of developing alcohol and drug problems later in life. This renders parental addiction a long-term problem that could impact the child’s ability to complete school, get a job, and live a healthy life.
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