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How Addiction Affects Children

distraught father with his head in his hands sitting with young son has no idea how addiction affects children but will unfortunately learn

Children don’t always live the happy lives so often illustrated in movies on TV. When a child observes their parents suffering from substance addiction during their formative years, it can change them forever. The numbers on how many children are impacted by addiction are staggering. One in five American children lives in a home with an addicted parent. If you’re the spouse of someone struggling with addiction, it is vital to understand the link between exposure to addiction and children. It’s also important to note that each family situation is unique, and your child may be impacted in their own unique way.

If you are a parent struggling with addiction, it’s time to get help. Professional substance abuse treatment like that offered at The Arbor can help. We offer family and intensive outpatient programs so you can rebuild your life and move forward from addiction. Call 844.413.2690 today to get started.

Addiction and Children

Children and addiction are a terrible combination. The effects of addiction on children can be devastating for many reasons, including the following:

Children Learn Quickly

Children are like sponges. They soak up the elements in their environment. They learn by seeing, hearing, reading, and doing things. They are always watching, so you and your spouse are the child’s first teachers. Children tend to act out in ways that mimic or mirror the behaviors and occurrences they witness.

Life with someone with an addiction can be full of drama. Children are inquisitive, and they observe well. When they are old enough to speak, they can verbalize their feelings. Parents often assume their children are unaware because they are quiet or cannot talk. However, they often have a deeper understanding than they can articulate. Just because they don’t talk about it doesn’t mean they don’t understand the problem. When a child is stressed by household turmoil, it can impact their brain development and cause permanent damage.

How Addiction Affects Children

A recent study determined that children whose parents use drugs and misuse alcohol are three times more likely to be physically, sexually, or emotionally abused and four times more likely to be neglected than their peers. Parents who suffer from addiction often struggle to set priorities and fail to meet even the basic needs of their children. Household finances are often redirected toward addiction, and the financial situation can be especially bleak if there is job loss.

Children living under a cloud of addiction are more likely to:

  • Internalize their feelings and put on a brave face
  • Take care of younger siblings, or even parents
  • Become withdrawn or isolated from peers
  • Use alcohol or drugs to cope with the chaos in the home
  • Suffer physical, mental, and emotional abuse due to parental neglect

Younger children may experience developmental delays. Their medical and dental needs are often neglected. A different study showed that 23% of children whose mothers suffered from addiction did not receive routine child health services during the first two years of life. Some of the most concerning long-lasting connections between exposure to addiction and children are the lasting emotional and psychological harm that can result in poor coping mechanisms and a lack of maturity in relationships.

Addiction Can Cause a Dangerous Home Life

If addiction problems are present, life at home can present a serious risk. Living conditions may be unsanitary especially if drugs are cultivated or manufactured at home. Children may accidentally ingest drugs or chemicals their young bodies are not equipped to deal with safely.

In some families, economic problems caused by addiction lead to housing instability. Children may live in chaos, with little to no structure or supervision, and in isolation. Even when home life appears fine to outsiders, the impacted parent may be incapable of providing the guidance, structure, compassion, and love needed for a child to thrive. They may struggle to form friendships and deep relationships with those outside the family. They may even live in fear.

Behavioral Issues May Escalate

According to studies, children who have lived in a home with an adult with an addiction report symptoms similar to those who have been physically abused. Sometimes they assume the role of the parent and take on too much responsibility. Sadly they may even believe the family problems are their own fault.

Parents with an addiction can be critical of everything a child does. As a result, the child can become overly responsible in their personal and professional lives to avoid being criticized. They may also work very hard for compliments. At times these attributes can be manageable. Other children may act out in peculiar or irresponsible ways and at inappropriate times. Addiction and children don’t go together because a parent suffering from an addiction disorder leaves a child at higher risk for learning disabilities, mental health disorders, and behavioral problems.

Self-Blame Becomes a Problem

Children are often upset by their parent’s substance use and may blame themselves for their parent’s bad behavior. They may feel responsible for trying to get them to stop. Children learn what they live. Living with and watching their parent’s addiction greatly increases the risk they will become addicted in the future themselves.

Addiction affects children in many ways, all of which can create lifelong problems. Children with parents suffering from alcohol or drug addiction often live unstable, unhealthy, and dangerous lives. They often have behavioral and academic difficulties and may struggle to form healthy relationships.

Family Support Programs Near Austin, Texas at The Arbor

The Arbor offers two specific programs for families impacted by an addicted family member. The first is an intensive, three-and-a-half-day program that combines educational information with therapy. The family program is led and directed by masters-level clinicians and is an experiential program that includes equine-assisted therapy, group interaction, individual sessions, and other therapeutic activities. The second family offering is a twice-monthly family support group held in Austin and is free of charge.

Learn more by calling 844.413.2690 or contacting us online today.