The people who raise us have a great impact in our lives, no matter how old we are. These does not only include the genes we inherit from our biological parents and ancestors. It also includes the manners, habits, ideals, and the way our caregivers communicate with us. This pattern also applies to alcohol or drug use.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an estimated 25 percent of kids in America grow up in an environment where drug or alcohol abuse exists. Also, Current Drug Abuse Reviews says that in a household where parents or other adults are addicts, the children are more prone to becoming addicts, as well. The kids may also experience poor academic performance, and have emotional and behavioral issues and low self-esteem. They may also be at a higher risk for abuse, whether it’s physical, verbal, or sexual.
Dr Maher Soudah, director of Kaiser Wellness Center, says that children growing up under the care of an addict may also be likely to develop anxiety or depression. There is also a greater possibility that they will become addicts once they start using alcohol or drugs.
On a lighter note, children can also have a great impact on their parents’ or adult caregivers’ lives, especially if they know how to support them. Learning about support services and systems can help the family and change the child’s future. This may help parents and adult caregivers begin their process of recovery.
How to help Parents Using Reversal of Roles
In a normal and healthy parent-child relationship, the parent is the primary caregiver who provides shelter, support, and financial needs for a child who is still growing up. However, in a relationship where there is substance abuse involved, these roles become reversed. The child is the one who assumes the caregiver role. The thing is, many children are not aware that they have already assumed this responsibility.
These changes in the child-parent relationship can be obvious, such as helping an intoxicated parent clean up after some heavy drinking, or even getting a part-time job to help with the household expenses, like buying groceries. However, these duties are not only limited to physical or financial responsibilities; it may also include emotional engagement. One of the worst things that can happen in this type of scenario is when the child begins to use drugs or drink alcohol with a parent or adult caregiver just to create an emotional bond with them.
In these this scenario, the child is forced to become mature even if he or she isn’t ready yet. Parents who are addicts often overstep on the emotional boundaries that push children to become independent and mature. This makes them an expert caregiver, but with an immense lack of social skills and personal identity. Also, the emotional and mental stress that these children experience can affect brain development.
For kids who try to take care of themselves or who are parenting their primary caregivers, finding help outside the home is not easy. Children of addicts may often feel discouraged or, sometimes, intimidated by the world around them.
“Parents and adult caregivers who suffer from substance abuse may feel that their child is betraying the family if he or she shares their problem to a teacher, a doctor, or even a friend,” notes Dr. Maher Soudah. “Also, many parents are afraid that if their problem is exposed, they will lose custody of their kids and will have to face criminal charges.”
So, I have a parent who’s an addict. What should I do? How can they have the confidence to speak up about their parents’ addiction?
“Kids can find a trusted adult whom he or she can talk to,” advises Dr Soudah. Think of at least one older person that you trust and respect; someone who can understand you and make you feel important. It could be a teacher, an aunt or uncle, a grandparent, or even a neighbor. Let them know what you’re going through and ask if they can help.
You can also stay close to your friends. Initially, you might feel embarrassed about what’s going on in your life and it will be tempting to just stay away from them and lie about how things really are. However, don’t isolate yourself in these trying times. Have at least one friend who makes you feel comfortable and open and communicate with him or her.
Make a list of people you can contact in case of emergencies. You can also write down safe places to go to in case there will be a crisis and you will need to leave. These places can either be the homes of your friends or other relatives, teen centers, or shelters. Find a place where you can find refuge in case you need to relieve yourself from the stress at home. Dr Soudah and expert team at Kaiser Wellness Center assists families of addicts cope with their loved ones’ situation. If you ever need to talk, do know that we are happy to listen and help.