Substance abuse affects everyone that loves someone with an addiction. It can be difficult, painful, and frustrating to watch a friend, sibling, or partner fall into the cycle of addiction, knowing that they must make the choice for themselves to seek treatment. For the children of people with addictions, however, the damaging effects of substance abuse carry the most weight. Children under eighteen are not able to walk away from their parents, nor do they typically have much influence over what their parents choose to do. With addiction comes the potential for increased harm to the child, such as abuse and drunk driving. Inevitably, these children grow up and become adults with a heightened risk of several mental and physical health issues. This is further exacerbated by the stress of continuing to deal with an addicted parent if the issue persists into adulthood. By better understanding common obstacles faced by adult children of addicted parents, we can create more resources for people in these circumstances, as well as all loved ones of those with addictions.
Establishing a Sense of Normalcy is Difficult
Adult children of parents with addiction may have a hard time functioning in a normal, healthy way in relationships and living situations. These individuals may have experienced severe neglect as a result of their parent’s addiction, and therefore are not used to relying on others for anything. They may also be unaware of how a cooperative household typically runs, and find it difficult to cohabitate with others. For those that may have experienced emotional or physical abuse, building emotional intimacy as an adult can feel impossible. For this reason, many children of addicts are unable to maintain healthy relationships, and when they find one, they may become withdrawn and emotionally distant. Additionally, adult children of people with addictions may have witnessed a great deal of volatility, or even domestic abuse in their household. This can cause these individuals to subconsciously seek conflict and drama because that is the only model of intimate partnership they are familiar with.
Perfectionism Can Become a Problem
Children of addicted parents sometimes grow to be over-achievers, obsessed with perfectionism and accomplishment. A childhood burdened by a parent that lacked motivation due to their addiction, and most likely had a hard time providing for the family, can cause the adult children of these circumstances to become absorbed with academic and financial success. While there is nothing wrong with striving towards achievement, perfectionism can take a serious toll on mental health. Those with childhoods plagued by addiction may set unrealistic goals for themselves and fall into a cycle of severe self-criticism whenever they don’t meet their own impossibly high standards.
The Risk of Addiction is Always Looming
While there are many factors that influence a person’s susceptibility to addiction, genetics and exposure at a young age both play a powerful role. Adult children of addicted parents are far more likely to develop an addiction themselves, especially in cases where physical or emotional abuse occurred in the household. Individuals who grew up around substance abuse may be unequipped to cope with difficult emotions, and eventually turn to the coping mechanism used by their parent or parents. The likelihood of developing an addiction increases with each additional side-effect of growing up around substance abuse, such as low-self esteem and chronic anxiety. Some children of addicted parents avoid substances entirely from an early age because they learned how destructive they can become, while others rebel against their parent’s problematic behavior by emulating them. Even for those that strive for perfectionism, addiction can become a well-kept secret in a high-functioning lifestyle.
Role Reversal Can Lead to Mental Health Issues
The natural order of life should be that parents love and care for their children, and children are only expected to care for their parents once they become elderly. Unfortunately for children of addicted parents, caring for a parent can begin at an alarmingly young age. Many of these children have the experience of picking their parents up off the ground, or making them a meal when they were hung-over. Not only did they lack the care they needed as a child, but they built their life around caring for someone who should be able to care for themselves. This issue can continue into adulthood, and addicted parents may become increasingly reliant on the time and money of their adult children. This situation can be very emotionally draining and is likely to persist until there is professional intervention. Adult children should not be forced to suffer due to the addictions of their parents. The best way to achieve recovery from addiction is to ask for help from a professional addiction treatment program. Talking to a parent about their addiction can be difficult, but many quality treatment centers offer resources for family members who are unsure of how best to help their loved one.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, now is the time to seek help. At Burning Tree Ranch, we specialize in long-term care that produces real results, especially for those who have experienced relapse. Here you will find a team of qualified and compassionate professionals, ready to help each client through a customized treatment program that addresses all aspects of addiction, including the identification of co-occurring disorders. We know that the journey towards recovery doesn’t end with the conclusion of an inpatient program, which is why we provide tailored aftercare programs to best support our clients during their transition into lasting sobriety. We also know that addiction affects the whole family, and therefore loved ones are encouraged to participate in the recovery process and take advantage of all our support resources.