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My Parent is an Addict: How to Cope

No matter how old we become, a significant amount of who we are is based on how we were raised. We are certainly the products of biological factors. However, children of addicts are also influenced by the lifestyles of their parents. Factors like the parent’s habits and behaviors reflect, but also their morals, values, and relationships with the world around them.

Because addiction affects all of these areas of a parent’s life, their disposition is passed down. Many children of addicts who adopt similar conduct are at higher risk of also becoming addicts themselves.

Children of Addicts Becoming Addicts

Unfortunately, nearly 25% of children are raised in a home with at least one parent that suffers from addiction. Children of addicts with two parents actively abusing substances are twice as likely to become substance users as well.

Not only does drug and alcohol abuse become much more likely to be behaviorally inherited. But, developmental concerns often also arise as a result of addicted parents.

Some of the ways young children of addicts suffer before and during adolescence include:

  • Decline in school expectations
  • Psychological or behavioral illnesses
  • Poor self-esteem, hygiene, or self-worth
  • Unclear boundaries regarding abuse- verbally, sexually, or physically
  • Experimenting with alcohol before the legal age
  • Increased likelihood of drug use, potentially leading to addiction at an early age

The relationship between child and parent is both very personal and very complex. Because of that, not only does the parent affect the child, but the child affects the parent. Because of this dynamic, children of addicts can greatly contribute toward addiction treatment and recovery efforts. Although it may not be an easy road, both the struggling parent and the children of the addict can benefit.

Addicted Parent

Caring for the Caregiver

Typical expectations for a family dynamic relies on parents to be primary caretakers for their young. However, most children of addicts have a very contradicting upbringing.

The illness of addiction will almost always render the parent unable to support their children in the most essential ways. Some of the expected necessities that a parent should be providing include:

  • Shelter, warmth, and clothing
  • Safety and security
  • Nourishment and food
  • Means of cleanliness and hygiene
  • Medications and necessary doctor visits
  • Financial obligations
  • Emotional guidance and support

Yet, more often than not, children of addicts find themselves with these burdening responsibilities to compensate for inadequate parenting. Thus, not only are children of addicts providing essential care for themselves but for their unreliable parents as well.

Unfortunately, because these young adults have little to compare their experience to, they often do so without realizing it. In these cases, the role reversal between parents and children results in a damaged and unhealthy parent-child relationship.

Broken Relationships: Children of Addicts

Addiction will inevitably do damage to the addict and potentially to the children of addicts. However, another aspect that can be difficult to manage and repair is the relationship between them. While excess burdens of household maintenance and ensuring the well-being of the addict are obvious, there is more to consider.

For example, certain behaviors also infringe upon healthy boundaries. Specifically, feeling the need to emotionally soothe their struggling parent, while sacrificing what are considered normal activities. When this occurs, it is as if the is accepting blame for the addiction. So, although the behaviors of the parent are out of their control by default, the children shift into “clean-up-the-mess” mode.

 Some of the ways this can occur:

  • Being subject to conversations between the parent and child that are far too mature for their age. Often this occurs as an attempt to be supportive and comforting, yet can often become traumatic.
  • Feeling apprehensive or fearful leaving the presence of the addict to enjoy their own lives. Usually, in order to provide company for a suffering or intoxicated loved one.
  • Assuming the heroic-martyr persona, when the addicted parent becomes unstable or suicidal. This can lead to inappropriate boundaries and a lack of personal space to develop and grow as an individual. Therefore, putting the children at higher risk of codependency in the future.
  • Experimenting with drugs or alcohol in the presence of their parents. When this happens, many times children are actually unaware of the dangerous risk they are taking with their lives.
  • Feeling as if they are personally responsible for their parents’ addiction. This further reinforces the need to remain close for support. The stress associated with this unrealistic belief can in itself, encourage them to become an addict in the future.

Not only does this potentially make the relationship toxic, but also these children will lack understanding of appropriate boundaries. Sacrificing development in a time when they should be discovering their individual identity, will cause emotional deficiencies down the line.

Children of Addicts Suffer Equally If Not More

When children of addicts are required to behave with more maturity than age-appropriate, it can be seen as neglect. Throughout youth, children should be able to rely on parents for emotional support, while having their physical needs tended to.

Being unable to do so puts them at a higher likelihood for:

  • Physical and emotional injuries
  • Trouble with the law, or witnessing of a crime (potentially leading to PTSD)
  • Developing anxiety or depression
  • Suffering from malnutrition or an eating disorder, such as anorexia
  • Under-development of social skills, leading to lack of adequate peer support

In order to compensate for the emotional stress of their situation, children of addicts often resort to substance abuse. This can happen as an attempt to fit into a crowd where they won’t be judged, or as a means to cope.

Children of an Addicts and Broken Trust

No matter what age, being the child of an addict is difficult. Seeing a parent suffer the devastating cycle of addiction can be a lot to process emotionally. However, it is especially difficult for young adults who have not yet developed a network outside of their immediate family.

Often it is the parents that encourage secrecy of their substance abuse, using threats to reinforce. For example, an addict may tell their children that they will be separated if anyone were to know. Or, that they will lose their home, family, siblings, etc.

When suggestions like this are made, the relationship will suffer. It will often require family therapy and coaching to rebuild security in order to heal. However, before this can happen, the addict must get the treatment for their addiction that they desperately need.

How to Cope As a Child of an Addict

Unsure of where to turn and who to trust, children of addicts silently carry an extremely heavy burden. For some, this can lead to resentment or acting out. Others continue to suffer in silence out of fear of their parents’ wrath.

However, children of addicts tend to make excuses for their loved ones. Attempting to mask their addiction in order to appear loyal. At this point, reaching out for help seems like less of an option.

However, it does not have to be this way. There are people available to trust that can help. Children of addicts can learn to cope with these difficult emotions while working toward encouraging their parents to seek treatment. Until then, some of the best ways to manage emotional pain may bring a sense of comfort. Here are some things to try.

Children of Addicts
  1. Reach out to a trusted adult

This may seem scary as if you are betraying your parents, but in the long run, it’s for the best. You never have to feel alone. There are other adults that can help.

  1. Express yourself

Try drawing, crafting, playing an instrument, or writing to log your experiences. Use this as an outlet for your emotions, as well as a safe space to be honest and let out your feelings.

  1. Do things that you enjoy

Even though it may feel as if you have little time and freedom to be yourself, commit to allowing yourself some time. Even if this just means dancing in front of the mirror once a day until you smile, a little “you-time” will go a long way.

  1. Make friends

This can be one of the scariest parts about growing up, but it’s worth it. As you find out more about who you are as an individual, friendships encourage independence and growth. Your peers will be there sharing the experience of growing up right along with you. This way, even when you are by yourself, you never feel alone.

  1. Make an emergency plan

Let’s be honest, when drugs and alcohol are involved accidents happen. Although, as the child of an addict, it should not be your responsibility. But, having a plan will ease your worry if the time should come. Make a list of numbers and resources that you can call if ever you need help. This may include the numbers of grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors, teachers, or even the local authorities. Keep it written down in a safe space. If there is a local rehab in your area, they may have options to assist. Keep their number handy. Remember, calling 911 is always an option in the case of a scary emergency.

  1. Designate “safe spaces” where you can go.

Right along with emergency numbers, speak with friends or relatives about a place to stay if things get bad. If you are distant from extended family, try a public place like a library, or even a youth shelter. Even a walk through a safe park can be enough to ease the tension of a stressful home environment.

  1. Take care of your emotional health

The hard truth to remember is that this is NOT YOUR FAULT. You are not to blame for your parent’s behaviors. They need professional rehab treatment, even if they don’t want to believe it. That said, it is not your responsibility to try to fix them. However, there are likely support meetings in your area, such as AL-Teen, with others feeling the same way. School counseling often includes therapy options to help talk through your stress. There, you might even find a way to encourage your parents to seek help. But at the very least, you can share the hardship with others who understand.

Addiction Is an Illness

It’s a sad reality, but everyone has an opinion about addiction. However, unless they experience stress firsthand, like having an addicted parent, they may never know the truth of it. In past years, those suffering from an addiction have been stigmatized by the public. Yet, as of 2013, addiction has been classified as a psychological illness, now referred to as a substance use disorder.

Because of this change, addiction is a mental illness, and treatment is more readily available. For the illness of addiction, it’s just as important to see a rehab professional, as for any other illness. In fact, addicts have more than one illness, causing their addiction to become worse over time. This is known as a dual diagnosis.

Addiction treatment screens for additional psychological illness while treating substance use disorder. There, children of addicts can rest assured that their parent’s medical needs are taken care of. Once properly diagnosed, specialists can help to get them on track and start to feel more like their old selves.

Children of Addicts

Getting Help for a Parent With an Addiction

As the children of addicts, you may be scared to tell your parents that they need help. But convincing them to do so, can save their lives. Often, this request is met with anger or scolding, but that is likely the addiction speaking.

Because of the effects that substance use disorder has on them, they may be reluctant to take your advice. Remember, there is a good chance that they don’t even realize how badly their actions are hurting you. How are you supposed to bring it up in a way that they will listen?

It may be uncomfortable, but to help them, it has to be done, when you are ready. Take the steps to prepare, and clearly state your feelings, and how you want them to get help. Whether a young adult, teenager, or adult child of an addict, this is not an easy thing to face. If you are still having trouble, try following these guidelines.

Step 1: Make a list to clarify your concerns regarding their substance abuse.

There are many different emotions that children of addicts should expect when confronting their loved ones about addiction. Often, the parent may become defensive and try to commandeer the intervention. By making a clear list of thoughts, you can be confident in keeping the conversation on track and getting through the talk.

Step 2: Reach out to a rehab or support group to hold a guided intervention.

This can be an especially helpful option if you are feeling scared or overwhelmed by taking charge. Often, the parents of children of addicts will turn away and not allow for the time to hear them out. Adults who specialize in interventions can be present to act as a guide, keeping the meeting going, and stepping in when needed.

Step 3: Invite other trusted loved ones.

Just because you are the one that wants them to get help the most, does not mean that others don’t care. In fact, they probably want to see them get sober as badly as you do. That means you don’t have to do this alone.

Think of them as your reinforcements. You can invite them to say a few words about how they feel about the addict, and let them offer their support. Don’t worry if some turn away at the idea of participating. It is a difficult conversation to commit to. Just a few close individuals will be enough to make an impact.

Step 4: Choose the right time.

There is a time and a place for everything. As for an intervention, try to choose a time of day that they are usually sober for. Addicts will be most likely to really hear what you have to say when not clouded by intoxication.

Step 5: Choose the right place.

The best way to have a private conversation is in a private place. If children of addicts ambush them in public, the embarrassment and shame may lead to the message getting lost. Instead, choose somewhere quiet and away from the public. This may mean at home, at the home of a relative, or even at a 12-Step program location during permitted hours.

Step 6: Stay calm, keep the conversation going, and be clear.

It’s likely that the addict will go through many emotions at the time of intervention. These range from tears to angry outbursts, or even to manic behaviors or disinterest. The best thing you can do as they are going through the motions is to keep yourself under control.

If they are feeling feelings, then you are having an effect on them. If they appear to be ignoring the things being said, keep it cool. They can hear you. They will hear you. Just keep going.

Step 7: Hold them to their word.

Although it may take more than one try, when children express their pain, the parent will usually listen. They will often resort to committing to getting treatment, in order to make you feel better. However, you must do your best to hold them to that, because really, they have to want it for themselves.

The best way to go about that is to set a specific time and date when they will attend rehab. The best possible option is to get them to enroll and check-in right away, but that is not always available. Either way, addiction is a disease that requires professional care. In order to ensure a successful rehabilitation, hold them to their word. Set the deadline.

Step 8: While they are getting treatment, heal yourself.

Although it’s important for the addict to get the treatment they need, children of addicts deserve outlets to heal too. Reach out to hotlines and support groups either in your area, over the phone, or online. There are many available to you. To get started, Al-Anon, Alateen, ACoA, and ACE are some great places to check out.

How to Encourage Parents to Stay Sober After Treatment

The biggest concern had by children of addicts, is what life will be like after rehab. Especially when a parent has been abusing substances for a long period of time, it may take a bit to adjust. Most importantly remember, your parent’s sobriety is not your responsibility; it is their own. It will not always be easy, especially after a prolonged stay at an inpatient facility. It will take time to adjust their lifestyle to support a healthy recovery. Be patient and understanding as they make the transition into a better version of themselves. This is the time to work on getting to know yourself and begin establishing healthy boundaries.

Watch for Relapse Warning Signs

Sometimes, relapse is part of the journey. But the best way to stay ahead of that is to be on the lookout for triggers and warning signs that one is impending. Sometimes it will even be the children of addicts that recognize this first. Once again you are not to blame. Understand that addiction is a difficult illness to overcome, and it requires constant work, on their part, to maintain.

If children of addicts know that their parent is working through treatment, some new behaviors may be expected. It does not make them all good, and they could be warning signs of relapse.

If you begin to notice any of these relapse signs, it may be time to suggest revisiting treatment.

  • Experimenting with other intoxicating substances instead of the previous one they sought treatment for.
  • Erratic behaviors, mood swings, or excessive anger and aggression.
  • Difficulty coping with sobriety to the point they seem depressed or anxious.
  • Forming uncomfortable ”normalcy” before everyone has had the time to adjust.
  • Inability to forgive themselves or others for intervening on their behalf.
  • Experiencing total relapse. (resuming the use and abuse of substances)

Keep in mind, that recovery is hard at first. Stay patient, stay ready, and stay supportive as best you can. Sometimes, relapse is part of the deal. By accepting that, you can be prepared to get them involved in the treatment they need ahead of time.

Children of Addicts Getting Help

Addiction is a family disease. It can affect each and every person exposed to it, especially the children of addicts. It is not your fault that your parents became addicted to harmful substances. It is not your fault that they continue to use. Although, there may be something you can do to help.

Contact us today and learn about the options you have to get them help. We will walk you through each step of the way. Ask about resources that you could personally find support from, as you cope with your situation.

You don’t have to stand by and watch your parents suffer. The longer you wait the harder it will be. Choose today, to find out how to help them get sober, and restore a loving home. You are not alone.

Take the Next Step

The path to recovery is only one step away. Begin your treatment at CNV Detox in Los Angeles, California as soon as the same day. For your convenience, we work 24/7. Our team is ready to help as soon as you reach out.