How to Deal with a Drug Addicted Parent

Childhood years are proven to be one of the most impactful periods in a person’s life. Children of addicts are in an unfortunate but not terribly uncommon situation. They’re heavily influenced by their surroundings and the people around them. 

Our parents or caregivers teach us communication, values, and habits. Though having a drug addict parent is unfair and unwarranted, it is necessary to create the safest and healthiest environment possible. 

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Children of Addicts

In the United States, about 25% of kids grow up in households where substance abuse is present. Children growing up with one or more adults who abuse substances are about twice as likely to develop an addiction themselves. 

Children in these challenging situations are more likely to experience:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Earlier than average experimentation with alcohol or drugs
  • An increased risk of developing depression or anxiety
  • An increased risk of verbal, sexual, or physical abuse
  • Poor school performance
  • Behavioral and emotional problems

Children of addicts can make an impact on their struggling loved ones. It is vital for children with a drug addict parent to seek support services and take advantage of their resources. It is unfair for children to be in this situation, but it is an unfortunate reality.

Role Reversal: Children Helping a Drug Addict Parent

In the majority of American households, the parent takes on the role of a caregiver. They will provide emotional support, security, and shelter for their children. Many parent-child relationships shift if a parent becomes addicted to substances. 

The child may begin to take on more of a role as a caregiver to take care of their affected parent. The role shift is not always obvious, and children may not even understand the responsibilities they have taken on. 

Young children sometimes clean up after a parent following a night of heavy drinking. Young teens may even get a part-time job to cover costs such as groceries or other bills. In many circumstances, these duties exceed the boundaries of a healthy parent-child relationship. 

Signs of Unhealthy Behavior

Some examples that express excessive emotional engagement may include:

  • Staying home to keep a parent company so they don’t feel isolated because of their drinking habits.
  • Developing responsibility for a parent’s substance use: “My mother drinks so much because I stress her out.”
  • Feeling a responsibility to consistently rescue a parent, discouraging them from suicidal thoughts or severe depression.
  • Building an emotional bond with a parent by participating in substance use.
  • Sleeping in the same bed as a parent suffering from extreme anxiety or fear of being alone. 

Mental Stress

In each of these examples, the child may be inadvertently exposed to a level of maturity that they are not ready for. Parents suffering from addiction have unhealthy cognitive patterns and aren’t capable of making responsible decisions. This can have a significant impact on their child’s life trajectory. Codependent behavior often forms, and sometimes the child may lack personal identity or certain social skills. Research shows children’s brain development is altered in these unfortunate households. Children with an alcoholic and drug addict parent tend to avoid bringing friends over to avoid potential embarrassment. Many young people believe their parent’s addiction is somehow their fault, causing them to develop severe mental and emotional stress.

How Can I Seek Help for a Drug Addict Parent?

Seeking help is difficult for individuals with parents suffering from addiction. It’s even more difficult if the individuals are young children. These circumstances typically require assistance from outside the home.

Parents in a daze of drug or alcohol addiction may even manipulate their children. It’s not uncommon for children in these situations to be afraid to talk about their parents’ habits, especially if their parents have a history of becoming abusive or angry. 

Here are a few ways children of addicts can build confidence to speak up about their parent’s substance abuse:

Confide in a respected adult.

Do you know an older person that you trust and respect? Do you have someone present in your life that understands you? Sometimes coaches, family members, or teachers can be a great resource to reach out to. Once you choose an adult to confide in, let them know your concerns and ask if they are willing to help.

Keep a journal.

Whether it be in a physical journal or online, record your feelings and any physical events that concern you. It may be challenging to relive certain moments, but writing down your emotions can help you work through the trauma. Keeping a record of things that have happened will also help once you decide to reach out for help. 

Stay close to friends and other family members.

Self-isolation can make the issue even worse. Even if you’re embarrassed or scared about your situation, find someone and be open with them. Keep in touch with your friends even if it’s tempting to lie about your home situation. 

Keep a list of emergency contacts.

In case of a crisis, make a list of contact points. The list may consist of emergency services, relatives, teachers, or teen hotlines. In the event something happens, you will want several resources available. 

Have a safe place.

Do you have a place you can go if there is a crisis in your home? Most communities offer teen centers or other shelters for this purpose. Go online and find your nearest community center. Have this as a backup plan if you can’t flee to a relative or friend’s house in the event things get bad at home. 

It is not your fault.

No matter what happens, know that you are not at fault for your parent’s drug or alcohol habits. It is by no means your responsibility. If you find yourself feeling guilty, remember that you can’t cure them of their addiction. The best course of action you can take is to reach out for help. There are several resources for people struggling with addiction, and many contribute to successful outcomes.

Adult Children of Addicts

Research shows that the repercussions associated with growing up with addicted adults often continue into adulthood. A prominent study indicated that adults who lived in neglected or abusive households had higher rates of conditions, such as:

  • Depression
  • Alcoholism or alcohol abuse
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Heart disease
  • Liver disease
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

The study also showed childhood abuse stemming from substance use led adults and teenagers to higher incidences of:

  • Sexual assault
  • Domestic violence
  • Poor job performance
  • Teen pregnancy
  • Financial stress
  • Tobacco abuse
  • Decline of educational or professional opportunities
  • Poor school performance
  • Multiple sexual partners

Convincing a Drug Addict Parent to Seek Treatment

Any situation where a child or young adult must convince a parent to seek treatment is unfortunate. It may seem like a betrayal of trust or a violation of authority. Young adults and children must understand that substances can distort their parent’s reality. This situation is intimidating, but parents must be aware of the effect their addiction has on their children. 

The following seven steps can make a conversation more impactful and increase the chance of a positive outcome.

Seven Steps to Consider When Talking With a Parent About Substance Abuse

Keep your feelings in writing. 

Clarify your feelings by writing them down first. The topic of addiction brings many ugly emotions to light, such as anger, manipulation, or defensiveness. It’s best to have your feelings written down in a difficult situation so you can refer to them if the conversation gets intense. 

Get experienced help. 

Interventionists and many social workers likely have experience in dealing with situations similar to yours. Interventions are proven ways that encourage struggling people to treatment. Talk to a counselor, teacher, coach, or school nurse about arranging a time to speak with a professional. 

Consider recruiting help for the conversation. 

Multiple people are likely affected by the struggling person’s substance abuse. Speak to your siblings, extended family members, employers, or even neighbors. 

Arrange a specific time. 

Approaching a parent about their life choices is intimidating. Set up a time where your parent will be sober when you have the conversation. You want the conversation to be as productive and meaningful as possible. You do not want them to be under the influence or hungover when sparking up an uncomfortable conversation.

Remain calm and vigilant. 

The most successful interventions do not include outbursts of emotion. By remaining calm, your thoughts will come off more precise and more persuasive. 

Have realistic expectations. 

Write down your goals and expectations. Know that anything is possible, and prepare for any outcome. If you get their attention and they are open to hearing what you have to say, make sure you have courses of action to offer. Do you want them to go to AA meetings? Inpatient rehabilitation? Try to write a complete recovery plan. 

Follow through. 

Addiction is a powerful disease. If your parent agrees to seek help, try to discourage them from falling back into bad habits by simply following up. Ultimately it is not up to you, but checking in may be the difference between seeking help or going back to substances.

Treatment Programs for a Drug Addict Parent

If you plan on confronting a drug addict parent, it is vital to understand the recovery process. Treatment centers offer several programs designed to fit various circumstances. Levels of care range from intensive to mild, depending on the person’s individual needs. 

Many treatment centers are prepared to deal with children of addicts during a parent’s treatment. Understanding the various forms of treatment is also beneficial when conversing with a parent about their addiction. 

Residential or Inpatient Rehabilitation

Residential treatment is a more intensive form of rehab. Most treatment centers that offer inpatient rehab require their clients to live at their facility. After detox, clients undergo multiple assessments and receive a treatment plan catered to their needs. 

Inpatient facilities offer around-the-clock clinical and medical care, typically needed by people with severe addiction issues. Clients participate in many beneficial activities such as therapy, group counseling, and other educational programs. 

Outpatient Rehabilitation

Most people in outpatient rehab have completed inpatient rehab but want to continue their treatment. Some individuals are entirely motivated to quit their substances following detox, making outpatient rehab a viable option.

Outpatient rehab involves similar programs and activities as residential. The level of care is just less intensive. Most outpatient programs require clients to attend treatment sessions during the day while returning home at night. 

Sober Homes and Aftercare Services

Following a successful inpatient or outpatient rehab program, many treatment centers provide aftercare services. Services may include self-help groups, therapy sessions, workshops, events, and sober living homes. Recovery is a lifelong journey, and continued relapse prevention is always necessary.

Chapel Hill Awaits with Care

Whether you are seeking a helpful resource or a treatment program, we can help. At Chapel Hill, we believe everyone deserves the opportunity of recovery, which is why we offer services at an affordable price. Our addiction treatment center, located in West Palm Beach, FL, helps many individuals develop healthy and satisfying sober lifestyles. Contact us today for more information.