Children of Addicted Parents Guide: How to Deal With The Struggle

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Addiction is a disease that never affects just the person suffering from it but also everyone around them. As their closest loved ones, family members typically suffer the most. Nobody knows this better than children of addicted parents. Both as kids and as adults, children of addicts suffer the consequences of their parent’s condition. Due to the various factors that play into substance use disorder, many of them will also attend rehab at a treatment center Lantana FL. However, even if they never partake in substances, poor mental health, low self-esteem, trust issues, and difficulties maintaining relationships are common problems that children of addicts deal with well into adulthood. While nothing can change the past or its consequences, there are ways to deal with them healthily, so if you grew up with addicted parents, don’t give up on a happy, healthy, and sober future – we are here to help.

Addiction as a family disease

You may have heard of addiction being referred to as a family disease. The reason for this is twofold: 1) addiction may at least in part be genetic and 2) addiction affects the entire family, even when only one member is actually abusing substances. As such, addiction inevitably has an impact on children in the family. Children of addicts are more likely to develop an addiction themselves, more likely to be neglected while their parents are in alcohol detox Florida, more likely to witness and experience abuse, and more likely to develop mental illnesses like anxiety and depression – just to name a few. Just like the disease itself, addiction recovery is a family issue. If children of addicts are involved in treatment, the entire family can benefit. Healing is possible, not just for the addicted person or just for their children but for the family as a whole as well.

Young woman pouring a drink for an old woman.
Addiction is often present in multiple generations of a family.

Recognizing the signs of addiction in the family

Parental addiction can go undetected for a long time. Young children are unlikely to be aware of the dangers or signs of substance abuse and adult children often spend too little time with their parents to notice them. However, you cannot help your parents with their addiction if you don’t realize they need drug detox Florida. So keep an eye out for the following signs of addiction in your family members:

  • physical changes: Abuse of drugs and alcohol will inevitably affect your parents’ physical condition. They may lose weight, start losing hair, get skin sores, get tired quickly, or otherwise rapidly deteriorate in health.
  • unexpected mental deterioration: If your parents are otherwise healthy, a decline in their mental capacity can be a sign of substance abuse. Watch out for memory loss, brain fog, and difficulty focusing.
  • emotional instability: Mood swings are a common side effect of substance abuse. If your parents are suddenly becoming irrationally sad, angry, or even happy over very minor things, this might be due to drugs or alcohol.
  • behavioral changes: Your parents will develop new relationships, hobbies, and habits as they grow older. If those go counter to their normal behavior (hanging out with people well outside their social circle, losing interest in things they used to love, struggling to stay afloat at work, self-isolating), the changes may be due to substance abuse.
  • drastic changes to your relationship: Your parents will probably try to hide their addiction from you. So they might avoid your visits if you no longer live at home, encourage you to spend more time away from them, lie to you, hide things from you, stop helping you financially or ask for financial help themselves, and more. If this is unusual for them, it might be a sign of addiction.

The consequences of addiction for children of addicted parents

Addiction always has an impact on loved ones, especially those closest to the addicted person. Parental addiction will, therefore, inevitably affect children. Children of all ages suffer the negative consequences of their parents’ substance abuse. However, those consequences may differ in childhood and in adulthood.

  • in childhood – Children of addicts are more likely to witness and experience emotional, verbal, and physical abuse. They’re also more likely to suffer neglect, malnutrition, and illness. Because of this, they are more likely to need therapy for anxiety in Florida and develop other conditions like PTSD if they don’t receive treatment. Due to their home situation, they also may get bullied or ostracized at school. This can lead to low self-esteem and a poor self-image both in childhood and later. Finally, children of addicts often participate in a form of role reversal – they are forced to take on the responsibilities of an adult and take care of their parents and household in their parents’ stead.
  • in adulthood – Adults who grew up with addicted parents often struggle to overcome the trauma of their childhood. They may need treatment for PTSD or help to deal with depression and anxiety. Many have trust and intimacy issues due to a poor relationship with their parents, which makes forming and maintaining relationships difficult. Those who are in relationships are more likely to stay with abusive partners due to a lack of healthy relationship modeling in childhood. Adult children whose parents develop an addiction later in life often feel a lot of guilt, anger, and resentment over their parents’ condition. They may lose contact with their addicted parents and conversely, become overprotective of their own children to prevent further addiction in the family.

Your parent is an addict – now what?

Realizing that your parent has an addiction can be very trying and confusing. You might blame yourself for their addiction or for not noticing it – or you may be disappointed and angry with them for their condition. It may feel strange for you to be the one offering help and care or suggesting professional treatment if you’re not used to playing that role with a parent. It’s important to remember that it’s valid to feel whatever you’re feeling, but there are good and bad ways to react to those feelings. After all, you don’t want to make the situation worse – you want to help.

A young woman talking to an elderly woman.
It’s important to talk to your addicted parent the right way.

Confronting a parent about their addiction

If you are confident that your parent is abusing substances, then you should not wait to bring the topic up with them. The sooner you get them into medical detox Florida, the better. How should you go about this conversation? 

  1. Be prepared. Read up on addiction, focusing specifically on the substance your parent is abusing (if you have that knowledge). Research types of treatment, the cost of it, and local treatment centers. Plan for the possibility that you will have to explain why you believe your parent has a substance use problem – they may still be in denial about it.
  2. Talk to the family. If your parent is close to their partner and other children, it’s a good idea to involve them in the conversation. They can back you up and offer further support. However, be careful not to involve too many people; you don’t want your family member to feel attacked or judged.
  3. Be kind and show compassion. Remember that addiction is a disease. Your parent has no more control over their substance use than they would over a cold. Don’t blame them, judge them, show anger or disgust.
  4. Be realistic. It may take some time to get your parent to admit to their problem and seek help. The road ahead of them is not an easy one so don’t expect an overnight solution – it will take more than one conversation to address addiction and you should be prepared for that.

Helping a parent deal with addiction

Addiction is a chronic condition. This means your parent may need your help and support for a long time. Some children of addicted parents are unprepared to sacrifice their time and mental energy for their families. They may live far away, have children of their own, or be struggling with issues themselves. If you cannot be there for your addicted parent all the time, that’s understandable – you can and should enlist the help of other family members too. What matters is not to abandon your parent in their time of need. Help them find an opiate detox center Florida before leaving the hard part to the professionals. Participate in family therapy during your parent’s rehab whenever you can. Offer to be there for them when they need to talk to someone or feel loved and cared for. That alone is enough.

Supporting a parent through addiction recovery

During rehab, your parent will be in the care of doctors, nurses, and therapists at the addiction treatment center so you won’t need to do much. It is often immediately after rehab that your parent will need you the most. It will get easier for them to maintain their sobriety as time passes; it’s the year after rehab that’s the hardest. So try to be there for your parent as best as you can. Check up on them regularly, call them on the phone, and visit whenever you can. Make sure to ask them about their recovery. If they are still in medication-assisted treatment, keep a watchful eye on their use of their medication – you don’t want them to end up in methadone detox Florida later on. Finally, don’t just be present when they’re struggling. Even when they’re doing well, they’ll benefit from having a good relationship with you.

A girl cooking with her mother.
Children of addicted parents can make an excellent support system.

Facing the facts: children of addicted parents may need to prioritize themselves to maintain a relationship with their family

While helping your loved ones is important, it should not come at the expense of your own mental health. Not only is it unhealthy to sacrifice your well-being for someone else, but hurting yourself will also make it impossible for you to continue to help them. So check in on yourself as well – how much of your parent’s addiction and recovery can you handle?

Setting boundaries to protect yourself

People who abuse substances often come to rely heavily on those around them for financial, mental, and emotional support. While this is understandable, it can also be unfair to their children. As an adult yourself, you have your own life to live and you should not sacrifice everything about it for the sake of your parents. While you should help your parent through benzo detox Florida, you must set some boundaries. Maybe you are struggling financially and cannot contribute with money but are willing to be the emotional support for your parent while they are in rehab. Or maybe it is the opposite – your mental health doesn’t allow you to be their emotional sounding board all the time, but you are willing to participate in family therapy. Setting boundaries that protect you and your loved ones is not wrong. Just remember to communicate those boundaries as well.

Fostering healthy communication

Emotions tend to run high in families wherein someone is struggling with addiction. To avoid this getting in the way of important conversations, you’ll want to foster healthy communication with your addicted parent. You’ll learn some strategies for this in psychotherapy in Lantana FL. You can start the practice yourself with a few simple steps:

  • try to keep your cool even when your parent cannot
  • don’t take things too personally and allow for a charitable interpretation of your parent’s words
  • be clear and concise to get your message across
  • repeat your parent’s message to them to make sure you understand them correctly
  • learn about different communication styles
Children of addicted parents learning to communicate.
Healthy communication is the key to a healthy relationship.

Avoiding burnout without sacrificing empathy

Children of addicted parents are prone to emotional burnout. After all, dealing with your own issues, your parent’s issues, and the way your parent’s issues affect you all at once is not easy. So it’s important to be mindful of your own mental health and emotional state. Take a step back when you notice that being understanding and empathetic to your parent is becoming difficult and draining. Tell your parent you need a break even though you are still there for them. You can limit the time you spend with your parent or the topics you discuss to something light and non-triggering. Taking care of yourself does not make you a bad person.

Worst case scenario – cutting ties

Unfortunately, many children of addicts find that staying away from their parents is best for them. This is something that you may have to consider if Xanax detox Florida doesn’t help your parent and their continued addiction impacts you negatively. It is a difficult step to take and one that should always be the last resort. However, if it comes down to it, you have to prioritize your own health and well-being.

The best coping strategies for children of addicted parents

Having addicted parents is a lot to deal with at any age. So what can you do to make this easier? The answer lies in healthy coping mechanisms. There are five different approaches to coping strategies:

  • problem-focused: seeking solutions to the situation you are in
  • emotional: managing your emotional responses
  • social: turning to your social circle or community for help
  • religious: finding peace in religious or spiritual practices and teachings
  • meaning-making: trying to find something good in or make something good out of your circumstances

All of these coping strategies can be effective ways to deal with parental addiction. So keep an open mind and try different things until you find something that helps you personally.

Allow yourself to feel your emotions

It is very important not to suppress your emotions. It’s okay for you to feel guilty, angry, disappointed, upset, or even betrayed. Don’t deny yourself the relief of acknowledging these feelings – letting them fester inside is only going to make things worse. Instead, always remember: it’s okay to feel however you feel; it’s your reaction to those feelings that really matters.

Children of addicted parents dealing with emotions.
Your emotions are valid, whatever they are – but not all reactions to them are.

Forgive yourself and your parent

Addiction is a complex condition that never comes down to a single decision or action. Are there things your parent could have done differently to avoid it? Probably. Are there things you could have done differently to help them? Probably, but neither of you did. That’s okay because we all make mistakes. You won’t be able to move forward until you acknowledge that. So forgive your parent – they certainly did not mean to become an addict. And forgive yourself for not noticing sooner or not helping more – there’s a limit to how much you can do for others.

Learn to let go of things outside your control

Children of addicted parents often carry a lot of guilt because they feel like they’ve somehow caused, allowed, enabled, or worsened their parents’ condition. Here is something you have to realize: although you might influence your parents, they make their decisions themselves. You didn’t force them into addiction. You didn’t prevent them from seeking help. And you cannot make them sober, either. You have no control over their addiction or recovery. So stop beating yourself up over them too.

Talk about your parent’s addiction to someone outside the family

It is natural to want to keep your parent’s addiction private – there’s a lot of stigma surrounding substance abuse, and you don’t want to invite that upon yourself or them. But it is important to hear an outside perspective as well. So don’t just listen to your own thoughts and your family’s opinions. Talk to a close friend or partner about what you’re going through. Unlike yourself or your family, they’ll prioritize you over your parent and may, therefore, be able to provide some much needed support and advice.

Children of addicted parents hanging out together.
It’s important to have friends you can rely on.

Find meaning in your pain

Some people find it easier to deal with difficult situations if they think of them as opportunities to grow. So try to reframe your parent’s addiction in your mind: yes, it is a challenge but it may teach you about empathy or help you understand addiction better or inspire you to start working in addiction prevention or even prepare you for future brushes with substance abuse. It’s a cliche for a reason – we learn from pain.

Focus on yourself

One of the main reasons why children of addicts burn out is that they focus all their energy on helping their parents. Don’t let this happen to you. You can help your parents without neglecting yourself. So set aside some time every day to check in on yourself. Ensure you continue to do what you love and enjoy, even if it means spending less time with your family. Get your work or schoolwork done before you visit your parent. Make sure your bills are paid before you chip in with your parent’s rehab. It’s important to prioritize your needs because you are worth the effort.

Self-care for children of addicted parents

While your parent is dealing with addiction, you may feel like your personal problems are not important enough to address. After all, you’re not the one dealing with addiction, so you can wait. This is the wrong mindset to have. This is exactly the time when you need to take care of yourself the most. You won’t be able to rely on your parents or even most of your family because they’re busy. So it would be best if you took things into your own hands and radically embrace self-care.

A woman meditating.
Meditation can help you relax and keep you calm.

Physical activity

There’s plenty of evidence to show that physical activity is not just good for your physical condition but also your mental health. Regular exercise helps you expend energy and releases endorphins, making you calmer and happier. If you join a gym in Lantana, you’ll also have more motivation to get out of the house and interact with other people. And if you find a particular activity you enjoy, like running or weightlifting for example, it can even become a fun hobby.

Spending time with friends and loved ones

It is important for children of addicted parents not to make their family their only social contact. Instead, you shuold develop your own, independent support system. Your friends, partner, children, and other loved ones can be there for you when you need someone to listen to you without judgment, a shoulder to cry on, or just want to let off steam. Isolating yourself or limiting your social contact to your addicted parents and shared family will not do you much good – you need someone whose role is to put you first.

Woman hiking in nature.
Spending time in nature is good for you.

Children of addicted parents often benefit from seeking professional help

While coping mechanisms and self-care will help you get through the day-to-day struggles, it’s important to also address the underlying issues. And for that, it is best to seek professional help. If you don’t take care of yourself, you may end up in a pretty dire situation. Should that happen, you can access emergency mental health services in South Florida on short notice and get help with issues regarding suicidality, self-harm, harm to others, psychosis, panic attacks, and other issues that require immediate care. But it would be much better for you that it doesn’t come to that. So instead, start going to therapy if you can.

Individual therapy is a great way for you to explore your own thoughts and feelings as well as learn the best ways to cope with them. Whether you are diagnosed with a mental disorder or not, you can benefit just from being led by a mental health expert on the journey of self discovery and healing. Therapy will help you deal not only with your parent’s addiction but also with other personal problems. Look for reputable therapists in your area, especially those that specialize in family therapy or substance abuse. If you’re concerned about the costs, consult with your insurance company first – they can let you know about the mental health institutions in the area that are in your network.

If you cannot access individual therapy, there are other options. Your local community center, outreach program, or church may offer support group meetings. You can find support groups for everything from addiction to depression to general mental health. They are a great way to get some peer-to-peer support in a largely informal setting. Most are free and open to all, so you won’t have to worry about costs.

Breaking the cycle of addiction in the family – a challenge, a goal, or a responsibility?

Addiction can be passed down through generations in two ways – genetically and through learned behaviors. However, neither of these are necessary links. While a family history of addiction does predispose you and your children to addiction as well, it doesn’t predetermine the outcome of your life. It’s perfectly possible to be a child (or grandchild) of addicts and never abuse substances yourself. This means that you can be a part of breaking the cycle

A happy couple with kids.
Breaking the cycle of addiction is an achievable goal.

Instead, you can make your life and your children’s lives better and healthier by modeling good behavior. Be open and honest about your family history of substance abuse. Don’t lie to your partner or children – this is relevant knowledge for them to have. Furthermore, don’t stigmatize drugs, alcohol, or their abuse. You’ll just be continuing the prejudice and making substances appear more interesting all at once. Finally and most importantly, build healthy and strong bonds with your children. Communicate with them, support them, and love them as best as you can. This creates an environment where children don’t have to turn to substances to deal with their problems; rather, they can come to you.

Healing from the past is the only way for children of addicted parents to build a better future for themselves

Children of addicted parents are always going to be affected by parental substance abuse. But the story doesn’t have to end there. You can learn, grow, and move forward from this. It’s not always going to be easy. But it’s possible and that is something you have to hold onto. You can still rebuild your relationship with your parents. You can still recover from your own traumas and stressors. And above all, you can give yourself and your children the gift of a better future. The first step toward that is healing from the wounds of your past.